To Be Honest: Impostors Revealed

February 5, 2019 | M. Elwood

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The New Yorker recently published a profile about A.J. Finn, author of the bestselling novel The Woman at the Window. Finn is a pseudonym used by Daniel Mallory who, it transpires, has not just written fiction, but has also lived it, regularly fabricating stories about his life. For example, he claims to have a doctorate from Oxford University and that he nursed his mother and brother during terminal illnesses in addition to surviving a bout of cancer himself. None of this is true. 

Books about Impostors

Catch me

Catch Me If You Can: the Amazing True Story of the Most Extraordinary Liar in the History of Fun and Profit by Frank W. Abagnale.
Serial impostor Frank Abagnale impersonated doctors, lawyers, professors and even a Pan-Am pilot while cashing $2.5 million in forged cheques all before his 21st birthday.

La grande therese

La Grande Thérèse: the Greatest Scandal of the Century by Hilary Spurling.
In reality an impoverished peasant, Thérèse Humbert reinvented herself as a rich heiress fooling and swindling those around her as she became an influential member of social and political scene in late 19th century Paris.


The Impostor: A True Story by Javier Cercas.
Enric Marco wrote a memoir of his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp and was the president of an organization for Spanish survivors until he was unmasked as a fraud in 2005. In this book Cercas attempts to understand why Marco committed this fraud, combining biographical and fictional elements in the narrative. 

Man in the rockefeller suit

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: the Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Imposter by Mark Seal.
Christian Gerhartsreiter assumed various identities to climb the social ladder, convincing many people, including his wife, that he was a member of the Rockefeller family before his deception fell apart completely and he was arrested on kidnapping charges.

The perfect prince

The Perfect Prince: the Mystery of Perkin Warbeck and his Quest for the Throne of England by Ann Wroe.
Perkin Warbeck was the son of a boatman in Flanders who challenged Henry VII for the throne claiming to be Richard, Duke of York, one of the Princes in the Tower believed to have been murdered by Richard III.

Woman who fooled the world

The Woman who Fooled the World: Belle Gibson's Cancer Con, and the Darkness at the Heart of the Wellness Industry by Beau Donelly and Nick Toscano.
Belle Gibson is an Australian blogger who claimed to have cured a malignant brain tumour and various other cancers by foregoing conventional treatment and relying upon natural remedies. Journalists Donelly and Toscano became suspicious of her story and exposed her deception in 2015.

And for those of us who sometimes feel like impostors although we haven't gone to the trouble of faking our life stories, here is my favourite Neil Gaiman anecdote about impostor syndrome.