Those of you who didn’t lose your life savings with Mr. Madoff, and who can think about him with equanimity, may be interested in a very fine novel about his life:  Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now.

True, the novel is a good deal older than the man, but the Madoff story is all there, told in this made-up tale of financier Augustus Melmotte. There is the forceful personality on whom all confidence rests, the extraordinary gains, the mysteriousness of the source of those gains, the plausible and willingly gullible front men, the crash, the public fury, a suicide, and the inevitable calls for more regulation.  But what law can truly protect people from their strong desire to believe, as a Madoff investor told an NPR reporter recently, that a year-by-year ten percent return, in all economic climates, is a safe bet?

This being Trollope there are also several love stories, good and bad characters of all classes and backgrounds, and lots of politics.

Published in 1875, The Way We Live Now is one of the most satirical of Trollope’s books.  In his Autobiography he said the writing of this novel was “instigated by what I conceived to be the commercial profligacy of the age,” and he considered it exaggerated in its satire.  Readers today may not.

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Katherine Dalton
Katherine Dalton has worked as a magazine editor, freelance feature writer and book editor.  She started in journalism in college, working at The Yale Literary Magazine during most of its controversial few years as a national magazine of opinion based at Yale.  She then worked briefly at Harper's magazine in New York, and more extensively at Chronicles magazine in Illinois, where she was a contributing editor for many years.  She has has written for various publications ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the University Bookman, and was a contributor to Wendell Berry: Life and Work and Localism in the Mass Age: A Front Porch Republic Manifesto.  She lives in her native Kentucky.


  1. One is put in mind of three definitions from “The Devil’s Dictionary”, by Ambrose Bierce:

    “Debauchee, n. One who has so earnestly pursued pleasure that he has had the misfortune to overtake it”

    “Plunder, v. To take the property of another without observing the decent and customary reticences of theft.To effect a change of ownership with the candid concomitance of a brass band. To wrest the wealth of A from B and leave C lamenting a vanished opportunity”.


    “Rapacity, n. Providence without industry, the thrift of power’

  2. I don’t view him any differently than our Social Security Administration. They collect money from current contributors, and promise future returns, which are financed by newer contributors down the road. It’s pretty much the same scheme.

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