Mark Seal's absorbing biography about German con man Christian Karl Gerhartstreiter (aka Clark Rockefeller), The Man in the Rockefeller Suit
, invites the reader to contemplate the power of a big lie, the fluidity of identity, and the limits of credulity. Seal succeeds in fleshing out a personality so unfixed that, at times, the man at the center of his narrative seems completely empty on the inside - save for a relentless drive toward personal wealth and social advancement.
Gerhartstreiter's remarkable ability to invent new personalities and to transform himself is fascinating, as is his absolute belief in each transformation. This commitment to each role may explain why, even after he's been outed by police as a fraud, his final and most impudent alias, Clark Rockefeller, seems to stick. He never drops the patrician accent or mannerisms, and, despite the prison...
Beyond the Book
You can't read The Man in the Rockefeller Suit
without wondering if Rockefeller would have conned you too. While Seal notes that a few people failed to believe Rockefeller's stories or personas, the majority of people Gerhartstreiter met were more than happy to call the eccentric aristocrat friend, neighbor, business partner, club member, or even "uncle" and were generous with their time and money as well.
People in the business of detecting lies have offered various theories about how liars give themselves away. Widely recognized signs that a person is lying, such as shifty eyes, unusual speech patterns or inflections in the voice, awkward body language, and sweating, are all useful tools in identifying possible liars, however these "tells" aren't always reliable; they...