Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate, and happy fourth week of November to everyone else.
My book recommendation this month is The Confidence Men, by Margalit Fox, the riveting true story of two British officers’ escape from an “escape-proof” Turkish POW camp—“the Alcatraz of its day,” Fox writes—toward the end of World War I. What makes their story amazing is how they did it: no tunnels, no violence, no weapons except for a homemade Ouija board and the two men’s skill at psychological manipulation.
I love a prison-escape story, and Fox tells this tale expertly, and Richard Elfyn, the narrator of the audiobook I listened to, rises to the occasion, switching between accents and occasionally reading passages in Welsh. But just as interesting as the escape itself are the conditions that enabled it. In his paywalled review for the New York Review of Books, Neal Ascherson writes:
Persuading people to like something is a trade. Persuading them to change their minds and like something else is a skill. But inducing them to believe in something that their senses and experience tell them is plainly unreal or untrue—unicorns, papal infallibility, Trump’s assertions, ghosts—requires art and almost manic self-confidence. The “confidence men” of Margalit Fox’s title, two British prisoners of war who planned the most eccentric and devious of all escapes, had plenty of both. But Fox puts their story into a broad historical setting, using it to illustrate the ways in which scientific inventions made possible not only empowerment but also credulity and manipulation.