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The Man in the Rockefeller Suit:
The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Impostor

by Mark Seal

Viking | 2011 | 320 pages | $26.96

Reviewed by Michael Carey

mark seal

Mark Seal, a veteran journalist with several works of nonfiction on his resume, has embellished and elaborated his article, “The Man in the Rockefeller Suit” (Vanity Fair,January 2009) in his latest book, The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Impostor.

Through over 200 interviews, Seal constructs a story of the enigmatic man known most famously as Clark Rockefeller.

From his humble beginnings as Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, the son of an artist in Bergen, Germany, to his life as the royal Christopher Mountbatten Chichester, in San Marino, CA and beyond, the man most widely known as Clark Rockefeller, honed his skills of manipulation.

Lies seem to surround him to the point of confusion. As I learned, through Seal’s in-depth investigating, about the webs he wove inside and around each persona that he created and assumed, I found it more unbelievable that Clark was able to live as he did for so long. The incredible puzzle the author attempts to piece together is only half of this book’s draw, however.

“You’re involved in a voyage of discovery,” he said of his mission to capture the riddle of Clark Rockefeller on paper. “You don’t know where it’s going to end. To some extent you pose to yourself and to various people you interview what might be a reality, and then you test for that, and as time goes on a vision is becoming clearer and clearer. So something that’s really very imaginary and fictional gains greater and greater materiality‚Ķ I think all Americans are our own inventions. That’s part of the allure of this country. And in some ways one has to see Clark as an archetypal immigrant who constructs a new life and new persona, free of the constraints of the country he left behind.”

This quote of Patrick Hickok’s in The Man in the Rockefeller Suit was meant to explain and defend Clark Rockefeller. In a sense he is asking, “Who wouldn’t, or hasn’t, done the same thing?” A very intriguing question the author raises indicating the first signs of empathy for the man he is tracking. That’s when it hit me that this book is more than the story of Clark Rockefeller. It is also Mark Seal’s extraordinary adventure in discovering this man. From Germany to Connecticut, California to New York, New Hampshire to Boston, Seal traced the clues and tracked down the people whom had known Clark in his various identities and believed, or doubted, the outrageous claims they heard from his dubious mouth.

For those interested in only the facts of Clark Rockefeller, I would recommend the Vanity Fair article. For readers that want to go on a “voyage of discovery,” including the latest updates, read the book. The mysteries and questions surrounding this man are still on the table, as the amount of detail that is only known for certain about Clark Rockefeller allows the reader to form their own opinions and conspiracy theories. So if you feel for the impostor who has his daughter and income taken from him and is pushed to the edge, or if you are interested in a murder mystery, The Man in the Rockefeller Suit will have something for you.

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