Summary and book reviews of The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit

The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Imposter

by Mark Seal

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal X
The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2011, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2012, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jo Perry
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About this Book

Book Summary

A real-life Talented Mr. Ripley, the unbelievable thirty-year run of a shape-shifting con man.

The career con man who convincingly passed himself off as Clark Rockefeller was born in a small village in Germany. At seventeen, obsessed with getting to America, he flew into the country on dubious student visa documents and thus began his journey of deception.

Over the next thirty years, boldly assuming a series of false identities, he moved up the social ladder through exclusive enclaves on both coasts, culminating in a stunning twelve-year marriage to a rising-star businesswoman with a Harvard MBA who believed she'd wed a member of the infamously wealthy Rockefeller family.

The impostor charmed his way into exclusive clubs and financial institutions - working on Wall Street, showing off an extraordinary art collection - until his marriage ended, and he was arrested for kidnapping his daughter, which exposed his past of astounding deceptions as well as a connection to the bizarre disappearance of a California couple in the mid-1980s.

Prologue
Sunday, July 27, 2008

The plan was foolproof, the route rehearsed, the cast of characters in place, the itinerary perfectly organized. Outwardly calm but with his heart racing, he was at last ready to accomplish what he had been so meticulously planning for months.

He had come a long way to land in this privileged place, a fifth-floor room in Boston's Algonquin Club, a venerable bastion of the most blue-blooded city in America, a preferred meeting place since 1886 for U.S. presidents, heads of state, and local and national aristocrats. He belonged here; he was a member of the board and a familiar presence in the club's impossibly grand rooms, with their tall ceilings, museum-quality paintings, and uniformed staff, all of whom he had come to know and rely upon. His name was James Frederick Mills Clark Rockefeller - Clark to his friends but Mr. Rockefeller to everyone else.

"Good day, Mr. Rockefeller," the waiters would say as he sat for ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Consider your first impression of Clark Rockefeller after reading the prologue. What kind of man is he? By the end of the book, how have your impressions of him - and Gerhartsreiter - shifted? Why did so many people fall for him? Would you?

  2. As Clark Rockefeller, Gerhartsreiter conned everyone in his path, including neighbors, pastors, college-admissions officers, and even his own wife, a Harvard Business school graduate. What does his successful streak of deceit reveal about human nature? What draws us to people, and signals to us that they are to be trusted?

  3. What role did Gerhartsreiter's interest in American media - specifically books, television, and films - play in the crafting of his multiple identities?

  4. In what ways do ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Mark Seal's absorbing biography about 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 a person's 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...continued

Full Review (786 words).

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(Reviewed by Jo Perry).

Media Reviews

Library Journal
While the subject's aloofness and arrogance keep the reader from rooting for him, one almost has to admire the chutzpah.... The talented Mr. Rockefeller could have come right out of a Hitchcock film. For crime buffs and fans of flimflam.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Seal... brilliantly reconstructs and dissects Gerhartsreiter's strange life, weaving in interviews with those who knew - or thought they knew - one of the men he pretended to be along the way.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Uncomfortably gripping material... Impossible to put down... Patricia Highsmith couldn't have written a more compelling thriller.

Booklist
Starred Review. Prepare yourself for one of the most intriguing, compelling stories of audacious criminality you're likely to read this year.... Full marks to author Seal, too, for making this true-life story as suspenseful as any crime novel.

Reader Reviews

Diane L.

Just how can a man fool so many people?
This book is a marvelous glimpse into: 1. a true shape shifter who is a sociopath 2. just how gullible and shallow people can be. The book leaves you with the question did he or didn't he commit murder. You'll have fun tossing this question in ...   Read More

Diane P

Con of Cons
Reading Walter Kirn's Blood Will Out made me curious about you get from being German immigrant to passing yourself off as a Rockefeller. Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter pulled off one of the most audacious cons in recent history. This is one of the ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Science of Lie Detection

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 "...

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