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Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Imposter

I read a review of Walter Kirn's book on Clark Rockefeller, which was mixed, and instead the reviewer recommended Mark Seal's outstanding The Man in the Rockefeller Suit. What was I to do other than pick it up? (Answer: Nothing.)

A young man immigrates from Germany, bent on making it in America, no matter the cost. He uses and abuses those in his wake, taking advantage of their trust, their kindness, and their generosity. His name changes along with his story in each new place he settles, until he finds the one identity that works: Clark Rockefeller, black sheep of the infamous family. Everyone believes him, including his wife, a Harvard MBA and rockstar finance whiz. Then one day it all starts to fall apart, and Rockefeller's house of cards implodes on itself, leading to kidnapping, a fugitive run, and a murder conviction.

So yeah, it turns out this book was seriously awesome. Mind blowing, really. I can see why so many think they wouldn't be duped by this man, and how easy it is to brush off his wife as dumb and clueless. What you have to keep in mind about this story is that a large chunk of it took place before Google and the ability to have the world at your fingertips; simply typing someone's name into a search engine was not possible. So when someone plays off being wealthy and old money, it wouldn't be terribly hard to believe. Many fell for this man, hook, line, and sinker. It's no wonder that his wife did, too.

There is no question that Christian Gerhartsreiter, Rockefeller's born name, is a sociopath. He is definitely crazy, and what is so interesting in this account is how desperately he believed, or at least wanted to believe, his own lies. To the point that he would sacrifice his freedom and his daughter, and not the least of all, his own sanity. It's beyond crazy that he could live such a huge lie for so long, but then that begs the question: To him, was it even a lie at all--or was he genuinely convinced that he had made himself into the self-made of them all, a Rockefeller?

Either way, if you want to read some fantastic narrative non-fiction, this is the story for you. It is an intricate web of deceit and insanity, and if it weren't true, I would tell you to go jump off a cliff. He is the man of many faces, and spending some time in this book is enough to make you distrust your own mother.

Hard copy for purchase below.

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