Further Reading: Grifters


Yesterday, writing for The New Yorker, Jia Tolentino declared it “grifter season,” citing an excellent feature in The Cut about Anna Delvey, a young woman posing as a German heiress, now in prison, and the recent publication of John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, an absolutely tremendous book about Stanford dropout Elizabeth Holmes (pictured above) and the bill of goods she sold the media and investors, including Henry Kissinger.

From Jay Gatsby to the Hipster Grifter, lovable con artists have enraptured readers with their feats of immoral derring-do. After you’ve finished Bad Blood—and trust me, you will in record time—check out the following titles, linked to their excerpted Booklist reviews. If I had to choose one, it’d be an impossible tie between Son of a Grifter and The Man in the Rockefeller Suit. One one hand, pretending to be a Rockefeller is insane. On the other, Sante Kimes stole a fur coat from a party when she already owned one.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Conning Harvard: Adam Wheeler, the Con Artist Who Faked His Way into the Ivy League, by Julie Zauzmer

Adam Wheeler was a determined, resourceful, apparently bright young man who, for a few years, lived the life of an academic overachiever, using a stellar record at MIT to gain acceptance to Harvard. But here’s the thing: he never attended MIT (although he did go to Bowdoin, where he was placed on academic suspension). And, like his acceptance to Bowdoin, his entry into Harvard was based on forged documents, plagiarized admissions essays, and a whole lot of clever deceit. Wheeler lied and cheated his way into an institution thousands of students dream of attending, and it seems not just fitting, but karmically appropriate, that his arrogance eventually got the best of him.


Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation, by Dean Jobb

Dubbed the “super-Ponzi” by a Chicago newspaper in 1923, fraudster Leo Koretz spread his faux investment scheme over 20 years, selling bogus stock to family, friends, and those who begged to get in on the sure thing of his oil fields in Panama and other dubious moneymakers. Genial, humorous, and well-liked by the ladies (unbeknownst to his dedicated wife), Koretz doled out monthly dividends, keeping everyone wealthy and happy, until the whole thing collapsed, as such pyramid schemes must. Jobb’s hearty, detailed retelling of this con man extraordinaire is a laugh-out-loud page-turner, full of gullibility and twists and turns (Zane Grey makes an appearance, as does Clarence Darrow) and serves almost as much as a you-were-there history of the making of Chicago’s big-shouldered outlook as it does a replaying of Koretz’s long-term scam.


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

In 2008, Clark Rockefeller, of the wealthy Rockefeller family, was arrested for kidnapping his daughter. But this criminal act was quickly overshadowed by some more startling revelations: Clark Rockefeller doesn’t exist. He was the creation of Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a German immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1978 and built for himself a series of fake identities, including Christopher Mountbatten Chichester, descendant of Lord Mountbatten, and Christopher Crowe, a television producer. The book is a chronological account of Gerhartsreiter’s life, dating back to his early childhood (when, as a teenager, he posed as other people as pranks), and it’s a deeply fascinating story.


Son of a Grifter: The Twisted Tale of Sante and Kenny Kimes, the Most Notorious Con Artists in America, by Kent Walker and Mark Schone

This is the compellingly sordid and ultimately very sad story of a  middle-aged woman named Sante Kimes and her twentysomething son, Kenny, who were arrested for murdering a wealthy woman in New York City as part of an involved plot to abscond with her money and possessions. But there is much more to the story than that, and Walker, Sante’s older son and Kenny’s half-brother, tells it all in astounding detail. Sante Kimes was a finagler, con artist, manipulator, and thief from practically the first day she drew breath.



About the Author:

Eugenia Williamson is the former Associate Editor of Digital Products at Booklist.

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