Alumna’s new book reveals drama in Madoff scandal

After a career covering Wall Street scandals, Diana Henriques – an alumna and investigative financial reporter for the New York Times – is seeking to unravel the story of one of the financial world’s greatest villains: Bernie Madoff.

“Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust,” Henriques’ book about the financial con man, reveals the personalities of the characters involved in the Madoff scandal – a nearly $65 billion Ponzi scheme led by the former NASDAQ chairman.

From its first day as front-page news in 2008, to the string of trials, accusations and suicides that followed, Henriques has supplied the scoop on the scandal for the New York Times as its senior financial writer. She hopes her book, which will be published by Times Books this year, will provide the definitive story on what actually happened over the decade-long con.

To do that, Henriques said thorough reporting was essential, rather than producing a “quickie” book to compete with those that have already delved into Madoff’s fraud.

“When you’re writing about an event like this for the New York Times, you’re providing the raw material for historians for decades and generations to come,” Henriques said. “You’ve got to get it right. You can’t let the emotions or hysteria of the moment distort what you preserve for history.”

While much of her reporting revolves around explaining Wall Street technicalities, Henriques said the most significant challenge of her latest book was conveying the characters’ personalities.

“[The book] allows people to get a better sense of this as a drama that happened to real people, not just in the headlines, but in their daily lives,” she said.

The tale of Madoff – and the cast of Wall Street traders, government regulators and victims who were all deceived – is one that Henriques believes represents a greater truth about trusting people.

“The thread that ties all of this together is the trust that people felt, not just for Madoff, but for one another. Families would invest in Madoff because a parent or uncle advised them to do so,” said Henriques. “The theme of trust – trust betrayed, trust restored – runs through the story.”

Lawrence Mitchell, a professor of business law at GW, has also written about financial history, and believes Henriques has inked the essential book on the subject.

“She’s lived this scandal as a reporter. I can’t imagine someone anytime soon writing a book that is somehow better or more definitive than hers,” Mitchell said. “We will understand Madoff through the eyes of Diana Henriques.”

Henriques attended GW in the late 1960s, a transformative and turbulent time in the District of Columbia.

Henriques said her time as a campus reporter for The GW Hatchet provided instant opportunity, and she developed an itch for financial reporting after graduating from the Elliott School of International Affairs in 1969.

“Journalists don’t tend to spend a lot of time in math classes, so numbers tend to be a little discouraging,” she said. “I had mastered my number-phobia along the way, and felt that I could explore an area that other journalists maybe weren’t interested in.”

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