Hoaxes, Frauds, and Con Men

A cavalcade of diverting deceptions.

The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man

By David W. Maurer

Published in 1940, Maurer’s book elevates the confidence game to an art form, detailing the elaborate methods and colorful jargon used by fraudsters in their myriad scams. Opening a window onto a rarely seen criminal subculture, the book inspired the 1973 Oscar winner The Sting with Paul Newman and Robert Redford, as well as hucksters, charlatans, and snake oil salesmen the world over.

The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York

By Matthew Goodman

In August 1835, the New York Sun reported that a new telescope could see poppy fields, waterfalls, unicorns, and horned bears on the moon, as well as four-foot-tall “man-bats” building temples and speaking an alien language. Republished around the globe, the hoax marked the beginning of tabloid journalism and demonstrated how new technologies, intended to illuminate the truth, could be used to perpetuate falsehoods.

Waging The War of the Worlds

By John Gosling

When the sonorous voice of Orson Welles came out of America’s radios in 1938 to share the fictional news of The War of the Worlds, unsuspecting citizens flew into a panic, stockpiling food and arming themselves against an extraterrestrial menace. Gosling shares the original script and examines the aftermath of the radio drama’s deceptively real portrayal of an attack from outer space.

The Forger’s Spell

By Edward Dolnick

After an ordinary Dutch painter convinced a wealthy connoisseur that his work was actually the lost oeuvre of Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer, the greatest art fraud ever perpetrated began. Dolnick, who previously wrote about the theft of Edvard Munch’s The Scream in The Rescue Artist, uses his art-world expertise to spin a nonfiction thriller as captivating as any novel.

Catch Me If You Can

By Frank W. Abagnale

From the age of 16 to 21, Abagnale impersonated a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer while passing millions of dollars in forged checks. Along the way, he escaped from a U.S. federal penitentiary and eluded capture even on a moving airplane. Here he tells the story, now a major motion picture and Broadway musical, of how he went from master criminal to the FBI’s foremost expert on forgery.