Books and information about pathological liars / con-artists?
August 8, 2008 11:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for books, articles, movies or documentaries about con-artists / pathological liars.

I'm doing research for a project on pathological liars / con artists like the young woman "Hope" who is profiled in the Deception episode of Radiolab, or the woman discussed in this thread.

I am looking for profiles or articles on con-artists (and the psychology thereof) who are more of a pathological liar type than professional short term scammer (card tricks, though I think that there is some overlap). These are the types of folks who tend to live their lives from false identity to false identity. It seems that they are in a different league than the "short con" folks, but I don't know if they are typically called something different.

I am looking for anything on the subject, either fiction or non-fiction.

As I type this, I'm noticing some new headlines on the "Rockefeller" kidnap case which seems to indicate he's one of these con-artist impostors as well.
posted by SmileyChewtrain to Society & Culture (29 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
There are many scholarly essays about Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye being a pathological liar. He even states it right up front -- "I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:56 AM on August 8, 2008

Oh, and there's also Frank Abagnale, the subject of the movie Catch Me If You Can.

Also, Chuck Barris, the creator of the Dating Game and the Newlywed Game, claimed to have been a CIA operative in his book (and movie) Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Barris will neither confirm nor deny the account, which adds to the fun.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:59 AM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Kevin Mitnik wrote a great book called "The Art of Deception".
posted by Ponderance at 12:09 PM on August 8, 2008

F for Fake is worth seeing. Ooh, and Iceberg Slim's Long White Con might be worth reading.
posted by box at 12:11 PM on August 8, 2008

The Talented Mr. Ripley springs to mind. Creepy stuff, that. I understand it was a book too, although I haven't read it.
posted by Rewind at 12:14 PM on August 8, 2008

Best answer: The Chameleon from this week's New Yorker is an article about a man who serially impersonates children, to varying degrees of success.

It's very well researched and shows how much the success of a con has to do with the mark's desire to believe that it's real.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:21 PM on August 8, 2008

Marjoe is a documentary that follows a phony traveling tent-revival evangelist. Great stuff.
posted by Rykey at 12:32 PM on August 8, 2008

Matchstick Men
Criminal (It's a remake; I can't remember the name of the original)
The Spanish Prisoner
posted by reeddavid at 12:47 PM on August 8, 2008

Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage is a good source, as is its bibliography at the back of the book
posted by ScottInAustin at 1:02 PM on August 8, 2008

You'll want to look at the films of David Mamet, as many of his films are built around con games.

In particular, check out House of Games, Homicide, The Spanish Prisoner and Heist
posted by wabbittwax at 1:27 PM on August 8, 2008

From history: Memoirs of the Notorious Stephen Burroughs. Burroughs was a confidence man and counterfeiter in the years around 1800. In his unashamed and wildly entertaining account he describe impersonating a minister, seducing school girls, escaping from prison (twice I believe), and a hundred other adventures. It is my favorite American autobiography, and an antidote for Franklin.
posted by LarryC at 1:37 PM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Grifters
The Sting
Definitely check out F for Fake, mentioned above.
posted by nushustu at 1:38 PM on August 8, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, lots of excellent stuff - thanks for the tips! I've got a lot of great reading and viewing ahead of me this weekend. I've been meaning to watch F is For Fake for years, too, but always seem to forget...

Grapefruitmoon's link to the article on The Chameleon is a profile of pretty much exactly the kind of person I am looking for - someone who sees their fraud as less of a game and more of a prison - a lifestyle they are trapped in - their only method of survival (psychologically or otherwise). Bourdin's story is pretty phenomenal, and that article is very well written.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 1:55 PM on August 8, 2008

Reading the Chameleon article reminded me of Emmanuel Carrère's The Adversary, the (true) story of another French man trapped in an enormous lie with no way out.
posted by Gortuk at 2:41 PM on August 8, 2008

Criminal (It's a remake; I can't remember the name of the original)

That would be the far superior Nine Queens.
posted by alby at 2:43 PM on August 8, 2008

Watch these TV docos online:

Kill Me if You Can. The con to end all cons

The Lottery Liar. A guy pretends to his family he has won 8 million dollars
posted by dydecker at 2:48 PM on August 8, 2008

Let's not forget the terribly underrated The Game. Is that already giving away too much?
posted by trinity8-director at 3:56 PM on August 8, 2008

What, no one's mentioned His Dark Materials yet?
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:13 PM on August 8, 2008

There is a riveting episode of This American Life (podcast) about pathological/compulsive liars. True stories. FASCINATING.
posted by beccyjoe at 6:49 PM on August 8, 2008

posted by beccyjoe at 7:33 PM on August 8, 2008

Snakes in Suits
posted by KokuRyu at 7:51 PM on August 8, 2008

could be interesting to include Zelig.
posted by nicolin at 1:07 PM on August 9, 2008

Lots of true-crime books deal with this sort of person. You might start with author Ann Rule.
posted by PatoPata at 1:19 PM on August 9, 2008

2nding Ann Rule. Just read Heart Full Of Lies, a true crime story of a woman who can't seem to keep her murderous fantasy world and real life from getting mixed up.
posted by Rykey at 2:27 PM on August 9, 2008

Oh yeah, don't forget about Mike Warnke (previously on MeFi), whose story of being a high priest in a Satanic church was debunked.
posted by Rykey at 2:37 PM on August 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

In the current issue of the New Yorker (August 11/18), the article "The Chameleon
The many lives of Frédéric Bourdin" by David Grann newyorker article fits the bill.
posted by pageturner at 9:18 AM on August 10, 2008

Just realized that the NYer article was already suggested above by grapefruitmoon (& commented on by SmileyChewtrain)....sorry about that!
posted by pageturner at 9:35 AM on August 10, 2008

omeone who sees their fraud as less of a game and more of a prison - a lifestyle they are trapped in - their only method of survival (psychologically or otherwise).

It is a long book and a work of fiction, but this is a pretty concise analysis of the protagonist in Peter Carey's wonderful, achingly gorgeous book, Illywhacker. It really is like nothing else you know.
posted by scarylarry at 12:38 AM on October 19, 2008

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