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Vanity Fair contributing editor Seal (Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa, 2009) unravels the complex case of “Clark Rockefeller,” a fiendishly clever con man who, over the course of three decades, insinuated himself into the highest echelons of American society using only his wits and a borrowed name.

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a precocious teenager hailing from an obscure Bavarian village, felt he was destined for greatness, and such humble beginnings would not do. Consequently, he made his way to the United States, where he adopted a series of identities more in line with his self-image: patrician, wealthy, well-educated and possessed of impeccable social standing. In privileged enclaves nestled in exclusive pockets of California, Connecticut, New York and Boston, Gerhartsreiter spun wild stories of his family’s prominence and wealth (and invented an ever-changing professional resume, at various points claiming to be a Hollywood producer, Defense Department contractor and international financial advisor), charming their blue-blooded denizens with his erudition, sponge-like appropriation of manners and appearance and, most crucially, the magic name Rockefeller. Seal delineates his endless schemes in an irresistibly lucid and propulsive manner, and his characterizations of his many victims are richly observed. Readers will marvel at Gerhartsreiter’s ability to bamboozle his way into tony social clubs, jobs at eminent financial institutions (he had no qualifications or experience) and, most crucially, into the affections of wife Sandra Boss, a savvy financial wunderkind who nonetheless funded “Rockefeller’s” lavish lifestyle in complete ignorance of his true identity. The narrative occasionally takes some dark turns. Seal makes a strong case naming Gerhartsreiter as the likely murderer of a young couple who fell under his sway early in his career, and the impostor’s kidnapping of his own daughter once his façade began to crumble is uncomfortably gripping material. Impossible to put down—Patricia Highsmith couldn’t have written a more compelling thriller.


Pub Date: June 7, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-670-02274-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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