Andreas Schroeder,
Cheats, Charlatans, and Chicanery
(McClelland & Stewart, 1997)

The history of the world is full of hucksters and hoaxes. Andreas Schroeder has told many of their stories on the Canadian radio program Basic Black, and he collected 17 of them in his 1996 book, Scams, Scandals, and Skulduggery. Now, he's at it again with his follow-up volume, Cheats, Charlatans, and Chicanery.

The book is divided into 14 chapters, each telling in great detail the truth behind some of the world's best foolery. But don't think this is some dry recounting of facts; Schroeder has written each with a lively narrative style which reads more like a short story than a news report. He has even added dialogue (admittedly the product of educated guesswork) to move the stories along.

The first, for instance, tells how Newsday columnist Mike McGrady gathered 24 of his co-workers to produce the world's worst novel, and how they managed to get it -- and keep it -- on the bestseller list as proof that America reserves its bestseller status "for books that are unmitigated garbage.''

McGrady and his cohorts wrote Naked Came the Stranger by formula, inserting as much sex and purple prose as they could and eliminating anything which seemed even remotely like good literature. "Many of the earliest submissions turned out to be so coherent and articulate as to be almost unsalvageable," Schroeder tells us. But in one week, the crew managed to churn out a completely terrible book.

It sold like wildfire.

Another chapter tells us how clever swindler Alves Reis nearly managed to buy Portugal. His schemes for avoiding debt helped him to first destroy, then rebuild Portugal's economy ... although his efforts eventually led to economic collapse and a military coup. Still another describes how Manuel Elizalde Jr., a Filipino politician, invented and sold a stone-age tribe to the world. His cunning mummery fooled scientists and journalists to an amazing degree. And then there's old "Goat-Gland" Brinkley, who made his millions "curing" impotence with goat testicle transplants....

Keep reading, and Schroeder will take you to a nonexistent South American country. You'll witness an investigation into a bank robbery which didn't seem like it would ever occur. You'll meet Canada's most notorious and beloved criminal. Do you believe the claims that explorers Byrd, Cook and Peary ever reached the North Pole, the South Pole or the top of Mt. McKinley? They didn't. And there's more.

This is good stuff, through and through. It spotlights the fiendish cleverness of the human mind and the general gullibility of the public at large. If human nature amuses you, check this one out.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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