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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Recommended Reading: "The Runner" by David Samuels

In September 2001, The New Yorker published an article by David Samuels called "The Runner". In that article, Samuels wrote about impostor and thief Jim Hogue, who is most famous for creating a phony identity that fooled the Princeton admission committee into accepting Hogue as an undergraduate. That story is the core, and perhaps the best written part, of Samuels' short book The Runner: A True Account of the Amazing Lies and Fantastical Adventures of the Ivy League Impostor James Hogue.

The Runner is thought provoking. Why did Hogue live as he did? As described by Samuels, Hogue appears to be intelligent, personable enough to create social networks, and a real athlete - a talented long distance runner. He graduated from high school in 1977, an A and B student and a star athlete, and attended the University of Wyoming.

Hogue appears to have had the skills to follow a conventional path to success. Instead, the wheels fall off the bus. In 1985, Hogue enrolls in Palo Alto High School. He later turns up in Colorado claiming to be a member of the faculty at Stanford. He moves on to Aspen to plan his effort to obtain admission to an Ivy League institution. Admission to Princeton was the result of that idea. Periods of incarceration occur, as well as subsequent gigs involving more misrepresentation, and a continued career as a thief.

We are left to ponder why he choose his path. Samuels wrote this book without much cooperation from Hogue. For material, Samuels turns to Hogue's 'marks'. As a result, much of The Runner illustrates various fundamentals about social interaction: (1) People generally expect to be told the truth; (2) People have "a finely developed ability to detect those who cheat in social exchanges." ( (3) People will tolerate a certain amount of what they suspect is baloney.

The Runner raises many interesting ideas about social interactions. If you aren't already worn out by the con artists and operators in your own day-to-day life, or want think about those folks in a fresh context, it is a good read.

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