The New Yorker Sunday – Secret Identities

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The New Yorker

A selection of stories from The New Yorker’s archive
Secret Identities

Stories about impostors are inherently fascinating for all sorts of reasons. For one thing, we all keep secrets; added up, they can sometimes suggest a hidden self. For another, impostors are great storytellers. Recently, in a piece for our Web site called “How Stories Deceive,” the science writer Maria Konnikova explained that con men take advantage of a psychological fact: when we’re caught up in a narrative, we become less skeptical. If anything, we want to believe. Afterward, we look back with astonishment at how easily we became characters in a made-up drama.

This week, we’ve brought together a collection of pieces about gifted, even legendary, impostors. Some are impressively protean: Frédéric Bourdin, the serial impostor profiled by David Grann, has impersonated dozens of people, including children. Others have specialties. St. Clair McKelway writes about Stanley Clifford Weyman, who had a gift for impersonating diplomats, while David Samuels tells the story of James Hogue, an expert impersonator of college students. Two pieces explore the other side of the con: Walter Kirn describes how he was taken in by an impostor posing as a Rockefeller, while John le Carré recalls growing up with a con-artist father. Finally, in “Friend Game,” an account of a MySpace hoax, Lauren Collins shows how the digital age offers new, and sometimes tragic, opportunities for imposture. Reading it, you can’t help but reflect on how Facebook and Instagram have turned us all into minor con men. As a New Yorker cartoon had it, way back in 1993: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

—Erin Overbey and Joshua Rothman, Archivists

Profiles | September 3, 2001
The Runner
As it turned out, James Hogue’s theft from the Tesch Bicycle Company was only the beginning of a far more intricate deception, the clues to which were neatly laid out in the locker in St. George.
By David Samuels

Annals of Crime | August 11, 2008
The Chameleon
With his baggy pants and his cell phone dangling from a cord around his neck, he looked like a typical teen-ager, but he seemed deeply traumatized. He never changed his clothes in front of the other students in gym class, and resisted being subjected to a medical exam.
By David Grann

Annals of Imposture | November 16, 1968
The Big Little Man from Brooklyn—I
A boy was born who was named by his parents Stephen Jacob Weinberg. He wasn’t entirely satisfied with his name or with himself. Soon after he reached the age of twenty-one, he started tinkering with his name and being people other than himself.
By St. Clair McKelway

Personal History | June 10, 2013
I’d met a few people like Clark Rockefeller during college—pedigreed, boastful, overschooled eccentrics who spoke like cousins of Katharine Hepburn and always seemed to have prematurely thinning hair and delicate, intestinal-pink skin.
By Walter Kirn

Personal History | February 18, 2002
In Ronnie’s Court
He appeared unannounced in my gateway, perched inside a steel coracle with wheels attached. It was an amphibious motorcar, he explained. He had acquired the British patent from its manufacturers in Berlin, and it was about to make our fortunes.
By John le Carré

Annals of Crime | January 21, 2008
Friend Game
A year earlier, Megan had committed suicide after an exchange of hostile messages with a boy who had befriended her on MySpace. She was thirteen, a volleyball player and a Chihuahua maniac.
By Lauren Collins

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