The Great Los Angeles SwindleThe Great Los Angeles Swindle: Oil, Stocks, And Scandal During The Roaring Twenties is the epic (that's EPIC) story of swindler C.C. Julian, stock promoter and dispenser of dreams extraordinaire.
Julian started a company in the early 1920s to buy drilling rights in some newly-discovered Southern California oil fields, then acquired money to begin drilling through a long series of masterful newspaper advertisements promoting the company. "Masterful" doesn't begin to describe them, really--as advertisements, they're works of art.
This was during an era when Los Angeles (and Southern California in general) was awash cash and an appetite for risk that has rarely been matched. The general speculative frenzy might not have compared to tulip speculation in 17th century Holland, but surely, it was close.
Into this sea of willing fools stepped promoters of all kinds, many of them outright grifters, but many more with at least a vein of credibility. Julian fell into the latter category, his lies so thoroughly blended with truths that he generally sounded far more credible than a truly honest man.
Julian successfully sold out several stock issues to support his ventures--well, "sold out" is an understatement. He, um, more than sold out. Far more, in fact, but his "largesse" benefitted public figures so thoroughly that almost no one wanted to stop him. The resulting scandal, which landeded with a Tunguska-like impact, was as epic as the degree of the original fraud.
The Great Los Angeles Swindle is both a snapshot of an era (the Roaring Twenties), an area (southern California during an unprecedented boom), and of human nature in general, because what happened in this story has happened since time began (I assume that Neanderthal promoters were oversubscribing shares in mammoth hunts, but I can't prove it--yet).
This is an absolutely brilliant book, so well-written, telling a story so outrageous that if it were fiction, it would be dismissed as unbelievable. Author Jules Tygiel is deftly skilled, and this has been my favorite book of the year so far.
Incredibly, this book is out of print, but if you're interested, here's an Amazon link for used copies:
The Great Los Angeles Swindle.