The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal

Book – Why is there something so irresistible about a really skillful crime?  Maybe we should be rooting against the antiheroes of Ocean’s Eleven, The Italian Job, or Catch Me If You Can, but if you love any of those films, or if you’ve ever found yourself binge-watching episodes of Leverage on a Friday night, I bet you don’t spend those viewing hours riveted by the tenacious law enforcement officials on our criminals’ tails (sorry, Tom Hanks).  If you find any of the above titles as fascinating as I do, no matter the moral failings of their protagonists, your next read should be The Man in the Rockefeller Suit–which is every but as thrilling but with the added bonus, incredibly, of being true.

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter was an ordinary young man from a small town in Germany, but his ambitions were exponentially bigger than that.  He came to America as a student, ingratiated himself among the rich and powerful, and changed his identity several times before settling on the ultimate last name: Rockefeller.  Under the new persona of Clark Rockefeller, he lied and schemed his way into a marriage with an ambitious businesswoman, memberships in elite clubs and an art forgery con, among other things, living the high life and then some.  It took over thirty years and the kidnapping of his own daughter before his secrets finally caught up with him (including a murder case which remains tantalizingly unresolved).

In short, The Man in the Rockefeller Suit is a fast-paced and exhilarating example of truth-is-stranger-than-fiction that will appeal even to the non-fiction skeptic.  The audiobook is also excellent.


Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Devil-in-the-White-CityBook – Beginning October 25, 2013, the Field Museum of Natural History will be offering a special exhibit, Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair. The exhibit will feature objects that have rarely—or never—been on display since they amazed fair goers over a hundred years ago, including a meteorite so feared it was kept chained in a dungeon. The exhibit will also explore how the fair brought visitors closer than ever to unique wonders like exotic animals, international cultures, and strange new products from all over the world. (Exhibit description excerpted from the Field Museum’s website.)
This brings to mind a fascinating non-fiction book, The Devil in the White City.  The book chronicles the politics, planning and construction of the Columbian Exposition in Chicago by renowned architect Daniel Burnham and his crew including Frederick Olmstead and Louis Sullivan. In a separate storyline we follow the gruesome murders committed by Dr. Henry H. Holmes in his hotel near the fairgrounds of the World’s Fair. Both his charm and the attraction of the Fair lured scores of young women to their deaths.
The Devil in the White City is grand and magical and yet evil and sinister. It reads like fiction and should appeal to fans of true crime, architecture, and history.