Book Review: ‘Madoff: The Final Word,’ by Richard Behar

MADOFF: The Final Word, by Richard Behar

We don’t yet have “Madoff: The Musical,” but years after his 2021 death from kidney disease in a federal prison hospital, Bernie the Ponzi-scheming potentate keeps yielding cultural dividends. An experimental film shown at Lincoln Center. A Netflix documentary series, “The Monster of Wall Street.” And now, adding to a fat stack that includes a coloring book and an exposé by a New York Times reporter that generated its own Robert De Niro movie, a new prose probe entitled “Madoff: The Final Word.”

Final? As its own author, Richard Behar, admits: doubtful.

A longtime investigative journalist who has taken on, among other formidable institutions, the litigious Church of Scientology, Behar spent 15 years seemingly half-shackled to and half-tickled by this, his first book. Along with many, many secondary interviews, he visited Madoff in prison thrice; talked to him on the phone about 50 times; and received from him dozens of handwritten letters and hundreds of emails.(He’s far from the first or only reporter to have visited the man in the clink, but the passage of time has loosened some auxiliary tongues — though death has stilled others.)

For every dollar he stole, Madoff seems to have generated at least one piece of regular paper. The hoard of 30 million documents he didn’t manage to destroy, Behar writes, “is nearly half the size of the printed material collection of the U.S. Library of Congress.” The shredding operation Madoff ran starting in the mid-90s, in a Brooklyn facility now called Tuck-It-Away, was like an A.S.M.R. orgy: burlap bags of the scraps taken to a nearby recycling plant, his secrets “dissolving to mulch.”

Who knew he was so eco-conscious?

Behar approaches this towering mountain of material with rigor, but also a certain informality. He delights in its wackier crags, like the auction of Madoff goods, the proceeds going to claw back money for those he’d ripped off, at which even his boxer shorts were for sale. Andres Serrano, the artist known for “Piss Christ,” paid $700 (“which seems crazy cheap”) for 22 pairs of the shoes in Bernie’s large collection, including leopard-print loafers.

Madoff’s reading material in jail, Behar reports, included Leon Uris’s 1953 novel “Battle Cry.” But the gruesome deaths of various players in the Madoff saga — the overmedicated multibillionaire floating in a Palm Beach pool; the French financier’s office wastebasket filling with blood from his slashed wrists — are more John Grishammy.


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