With VESCO, Arthur Herzog makes an admirable attempt to explain how Robert Vesco turned a few glorified machine shops into a financial empire through influence peddling, pyramid tactics, and the then-rare hostile takeover. Vesco and his associates created corporations not to make a product but to make deals--often with themselves -- and to keep funds in continuous motion. Vesco never let anyone, including accountants and attorneys, see more than a fraction of the whole operation, which was, some think, legal, though perhaps just this side of fraudulent.

Herzog characterizes Vesco as a man driven to use everything--with the significant exception of his family-- as a means to an end. He is portrayed as a man who managed to achieve what for someone with less energy, less stamina, and less bargaining savvy would have remained delusions of grandeur.

Herzog describes Vesco’s nemesis, the Securities and Exchange Commission (or “See Everything Crooked,” as Vesco called the SEC), as being on a righteous vendetta to prosecute Vesco for crimes that included spiriting away $224 million of other people’s money for his personal use. To avoid his greatest fear--humiliation, which a conviction would bring--Vesco left the United States in 1973 and sought refuge in the Bahamas, Costa Rica, Antigua, Nicaragua, and finally Cuba, where he lives today.

Herzog’s willingness to take on the extensive research necessary to relate a case as intricate as Vesco’s is commendable. The author’s overly conversational style, however--strewn with parenthetical remarks of questionable utility--adds an unnecessary layer of complexity that requires more rereading than an impatient reader will tolerate.