Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower Book Poster Image
Gorgeous, clever account of bold con artist's life.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

History of the Eiffel Tower's construction and bumpy early history. Explains Prohibition and the rise of criminal networks. Sidebars offer background on landmark Hôtel de Crillon in Paris, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary in San Francisco, counterfeiting, and more. Includes a glossary and source list pointing to books, newspaper articles, and websites. Author's note describes a con still pervasive in Paris today and warns readers to "stay sharp."

Positive Messages

Opportunists, unfortunately, are always looking for ways to take advantage of people, but you can steer clear by being smart and recognizing a con. A life of crime is unlikely to end well. History -- even when it involves criminals -- is full of fascinating stories.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Some of Lustig's victims go the police. Law-enforcement officials doggedly pursue Lustig.

Violence & Scariness

Retells story of Victor getting slashed by the husband of a woman with whom he was flirting.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower, is an engaging, smartly illustrated story about a lifelong criminal in the early 20th century. It discusses Prohibition, organized crime, bootlegging, gambling, counterfeiting, and scams and explains how cons work, providing some insight into how to avoid falling victim to one. The con artist's victims are portrayed as angry or humiliated. Al Capone makes an appearance, and a page about Prohibition pictures two intoxicated men with bottles. It's a marvelous bit of history and beautifully told, but the shady elements and lengthy text make it a hard sell for kindergartners, despite the publisher's age recommendation.

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What's the story?

Robert Miller got an early start as a con artist, putting his skills as a gambler to use parting people from their money. Operating under the name of Count Victor Lustig -- only one of dozens of aliases -- he scammed ordinary people and legendary criminals on both sides of the Atlantic. His biggest con, however, was a scheme to trick a scrap metal dealer into buying the dilapidated Eiffel Tower. The con went so well, he tried it a second time -- and ended up making a quick getaway. The law caught up with him in the United States, where his massive counterfeiting operation led to his final years in the Alcatraz penetentiary.

Is it any good?

A con artist seems an odd subject for a picture book, but author-illustrator Greg Pizzoli artfully weaves a fascinating story of a bold criminal who took every advantage of the times he lived in. Pizzoli's artwork makes TRICKY VIC: THE MAN WHO SOLD THE EIFFEL TOWER a marvel. He uses a modern, muted palette and mixes in stamps, photographs, pencil, ink, and more. Victor Lustig, known by 45 aliases over his life, is depicted using the only constant thing about him: He's a fingerprint, sporting a bowler hat. The mark who took the bait in his tower scheme, André Poisson, is depicted with a fish for a head.

Pizzoli smartly intertwines Lustig's criminal escapades with historical benchmarks such as the World Fair, Prohibition, and the heyday of transatlantic ocean travel. There's a fair amount of history in the main text, with sidebars offering more background detail. A sure hit for pranksters and history buffs.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why the first victim of the Eiffel Tower scam didn't go to the police. Do you think he was right? What would you have done?

  • How are cons different from pranks and practical jokes?

  • Lustig tells his parents a con artist is really a type of artist. What do you think?

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