The Pequod Review:
The Confidence-Man is too fragmentary and episodic to rank with Herman Melville’s best work, but it has some of his deepest insights on philosophy, politics, and human nature. The story takes place on April Fools' Day aboard a Mississippi steamboat (the Fidele, or “Faithful”), and describes a con man who scams and swindles his fellow passengers in a variety of ways. Through 45 discrete sketches, the book doesn’t really cohere into anything resembling a novel. Nonetheless, it has a number of engaging scenes, as well as a consistency of outlook that captures essential features of 1850s America: commercial exploitation, huckerism, gullibility, and the growing importance of perception over reality. Melville also has pointed criticisms of transcendentalism, and lightly mocks Thoreau and Emerson through the book’s fictional characters. Despite its flaws, The Confidence-Man remains one of Melville’s essential works.