Review: Octopus: Sam Israel, the Secret Market, and Wall Street’s Wildest Con

Octopus: Sam Israel, the Secret Market, and Wall Street's Wildest Con
Octopus: Sam Israel, the Secret Market, and Wall Street’s Wildest Con by Guy Lawson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The tale of Sam Israel, who founded a hedge fund that he turned into a Ponzi scheme to avoid admitting failure, is truly stranger than fiction. Israel, the scion of a wealthy New Orleans family, falls under the spell of trading on Wall Street and becomes a heavy drug user. Under the spell of “masters of the universe” self-aggrandizement, he bites off considerably more than he can chew in starting his own hedge fund and resorts to fraud to hide his mistakes. But that’s not close to being the craziest part of this story.

Desperate to generate more income for his failing hedge fund, Israel falls prey to a mysterious figure claiming to be an ex-CIA operative. This man, Robert Booth Nichols, convinces Israel to invest over $100 million of his clients’ money in a secret “shadow market” which Nichols claims the CIA uses to prop up foreign governments and that thirteen families use to rule the world. Before Israel knows what’s happening, he’s jetting to foreign locales, meeting with shady bankers and real or presumed members of the aristocracy, as well as dodging enemy agents trying to kill him.

Either that or there’s no such thing as a shadow market or 13 ruling families, and Israel just fell for a long con perpetrated by a smooth-talking conspiracy theorist and his buddies.

This book is absolutely engrossing. Highly recommended.

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