Tangled Webs

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Title: Tangled Webs
Subtitle: How False Statements Are Undermining America: From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff
Author: James B. Stewart
Pages: 441
Genre: Non-Fiction; Current Events
Publisher: The Penguin Press (Penguin)
Pub. Date: April 19, 2011

The dedication for this book appropriately reads, "To those who seek the truth". In astounding and detailed fashion, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Stewart chronicles the true events of the scandals of Martha Stewart (insider trading), "Scooter" Libby (leaking the name of a CIA agent), Barry Bonds (using steroids), and Bernie Madoff (running a Ponzi scheme). What these individuals have in common, however, is not just that they were involved in criminal investigations, but that each of them committed perjury, lying under oath. The theme that weaves throughout Tangled Webs is that of the epidemic of perjury that has overcome America, which is, sadly, a broader reflection of the loss of values in our culture.

Tangled Webs was a riveting, cerebral, white collar true crime story. I struggle with trying to describe the writing style because it had a narrative quality but wasn't completely a narrative non-fiction. Rather, it had these elements combined with plain ol' great, journalistic "storytelling". Though this book does have a density that may be intimidating (it's long and there's a ton of information), it was an unexpectedly easy and engaging read. I was truly enthralled with the book, with the detailed information, with the points made by Stewart, with everything. I implore any of you who have the slightest interest in the topic to read this! I was so thoroughly impressed with this book, I can't even explain... I just constantly talk about it and all the things I learned from it. I want to share everything I learned!

Stewart organized each section superbly. Through interviews and reviews of grand jury transcripts, Stewart pieced together all the chronological detail of each story including the grand jury testimonies that occurred at the culmination of each scandal. He followed that up with what happened at the actual trial. Each section then ended with what each of the main "characters" is doing now. As I read, I found myself fascinated at times and saddened at times by people's lack of scruples. Each presented story illustrated the very sad fact that these successful role models, of sorts, were dishonest and/or tried to hide their wrongdoings. Sometimes they were completely brazen in their actions. I will say that I lost a lot of respect for the main characters in the book (well, at least of what little I may have had) but also for others that were involved. While there are "main characters" and, yes, they did lie, there were so many accomplices. There were also people who plain didn't do their jobs by following up where they should have. Of course, I acknowledge that I don't have their whole stories, but, for instance, Bernie Madoff could easily have been caught two years before he was which would have saved the public $45 billion in losses. And when I say easily, I mean, several people dropped the ball when only slightly more follow up would have busted the scheme right open.

Another thing I liked about Tangled Webs was the underlying point being that regardless of the actual crimes committed by these people, the act of perjury in itself was a crime; yet, there tends to be a high tolerance and lack of gravitas contributed to this issue. (Some of the issues presented were the thoughts of some individuals that criminally prosecuting someone for perjury was a waste and not important). In my short adult life as of yet, I have seen lying by people, including respected professionals, that so frustrates and discourages me. AND, the irony is that for these individuals, lying only made things worse! For instance, Martha Stewart may never have had any issues had she not lied. In fact, had she just left well enough alone, she would have lost monetarily what to the average middle-class person might be equal to $500 (this is relatively speaking based on the amount of money she makes). Scooter Libby may have had some serious repercussions, but nothing near what he could have had to endure (except for some rather lucky exceptions). In one part, Stewart quoted U.S. Attorney for Chicago, Patrick Fitzgerald's, responses about perjury as a crime.

...we brought those cases because we realized that the truth is the engine of our judicial system. And if you compromise the truth, the whole process is lost. (p. 224)

If these facts are true, if we were to walk away from this and not charge obstruction of justice and perjury, we might as well just hand in our jobs. Because our jobs, the criminal justice system, is to make sure people tell us the truth. And when it's a high-level official and a very sensitive investigation, it is a very, very serious matter that no one should take lightly. (p. 224)

If nothing else, Tangled Webs, gives one a lot of thinking points when it comes to thoughts on treating lying and perjury in and of itself a crime as serious as the other alleged crimes (insider trading, etc.)

I also feel that through the descriptions of each of the aforementioned scenarios, I learned a lot about the stock market and the dynamics of the white house. Stewart did an excellent job of providing as much documented information as was relevant while still providing his own commentary, explanation, and summarization. I stayed up to speed with mostly everything, though the quoted parts of the Bernie Madoff section often read like gibberish to me. I was never good at economics or understanding stocks and bonds, and individuals in that arena speak their own language! But even so, Stewart explained everything well. Another commendation: he maintained a neutral stance politically. He pointed out wrongs of both political parties, when relevant, and didn't appear to side with any people over another except for as it related to who was truthful and who was not.

Have you gotten a feel for my thoughts about this book? Because if you didn't, I loved it! It was fantastic! I'm new to Stewart as an author, but he apparently has quite the impressive, best-selling back list. I will absolutely be checking out his previous books and hope you decide to read this one.


Sandy Nawrot said...

Cool. I love non-fiction, and I think it gets a bad rap. There is nothing more invigorating than learning about something that actually happened. And I'm not the least bit surprised at the epidemic of lying. Today's religion is "cover thy ass of number one".

Zibilee said...

I think this book makes it really clear why perjury is never a good idea, but it sounds like it does it in a fascinating way, and by illustrating the point with several timely and popular cases. I would love to read this one, and see what I make of it, though I am pretty decided already about what a horrible thing it is to perjure yourself. Greatly enticing review, Jenny. Thanks so much for sharing it!

Man of la Book said...

Excellent review. I'm reading this book now as part of the tour. It never ceases to amaze me how the big and powerful always get punished for the cover up - not the actual crime.


Michelle (Red Headed Book Child) said...

Your enthusiasm comes through with flying colors, Jenny. This would not seem like a book I would read but your review definitely turns my head a little bit. It would be hard to shine a good light on any of those characters. I would feel the same feelings you felt towards them but it would be interesting to have it all fleshed out.

heathertlc said...

It is such a shame to me that more people in high places don't truly consider lying under oath to be a crime - it's unbelievable!

I'm glad to know that this book is easy to read yet still full of fascinating (horrifying?) information.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read and review this one!

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