Everybody hates Bernard Madoff, and for good reason. He bilked hundreds—thousands—of people out of billions, perhaps tens of billions, of dollars, destroyed numerous life savings, ruined the future prospects of many of those who had trusted him, all the while living in ostentatious, and, it is now painfully clear, despicable luxury.
He did all this via what may be the largest Ponzi scheme in history. There is no question that Madoff was a perpetrator and not himself a victim: He was (and presumably still is) highly intelligent and sophisticated in the ways of the financial world. He knew precisely what he was doing, and did it nonetheless. In addition to celebrating his prison sentence, disinterested observers and victims alike therefore found themselves wondering aloud: What was he thinking?