Halpern brings unexpected literary heft to the world of debt collection.



An investigation of the bottom-feeding underworld of debt collecting and its disreputable cast of rip-off artists.

As journalist and novelist Halpern (Dormia, 2009, etc.) discovered, the world of debt collection is every bit as scummy (and possibly scummier) as its reputation has always suggested. “Some thirty-five million consumers—roughly 14% of all Americans—are currently being hounded over at least one loan,” he writes. The author delivers a tale of two kinds of lowlifes and their collaboration in a lowest-common-denominator business that makes Wall Street look meek and ethical. Halpern begins with a focus on former banker Aaron Siegel, who moved back to his financially downtrodden hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., rounded up $14 million from chummy investors and opened his own private equity fund specializing in debt collection. After being ripped off by his own shady employees, who stole a huge portfolio of debt out from under his nose and started their own rogue agency, Siegel decided to employ the help of ex–bank robber Brandon Wilson to help strong-arm the debt collection competition into submission. Halpern tracks not only Siegel and Wilson’s quixotic quest for the stolen debt, but also the ugly, everyday inner workings of the business as a whole, much of which is based in crime-ridden, economically destitute Buffalo. The predominantly unethical practice of buying, selling and collecting debt is carried out by just the sort of societal outcasts you’d expect—usually, ex-cons or other desperate, otherwise unemployable screw-ups fill the business’s ranks. Halpern’s story of the debt collection world is also a dramatic rise-and-fall tale that traces the anything-goes heyday of debt collecting businesses in the unregulated early 2000s and how it has changed with the consequential recent Obama-era crackdowns on the shadier practices in the field. As we see in the book, these new regulations make it much harder for miscreants like Siegel and Wilson to survive.

Halpern brings unexpected literary heft to the world of debt collection.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-10823-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Aug. 13, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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