cover image The Irresistible Con: The Bizarre Life of a Fraudulent Genius

The Irresistible Con: The Bizarre Life of a Fraudulent Genius

Francis Wheen, . . Short Books, $15 (154pp) ISBN 978-1-904095-74-3

A widowed female academic whose outré theories on such topics as mathematical logic and shamanistic ecstasies earned her comparisons to Hegel and even Einstein, Charlotte M. Bach was revealed upon her death in 1981 to be, not only a man, but also the last in a series of gleefully eccentric personae created by one Karoly Hajdu. Born in Hungary in 1920, Hajdu survived both the Nazi and Soviet occupations before escaping to England, where he reinvented himself as a smooth-talking aristocrat and began fleecing Londoners with a series of outrageous scams. Told with a dry theatricality by English bestselling author Wheen (How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World ), this sublimely funny biography of the con man goes beyond sensation to provide a thoughtful account of the struggle of a displaced person to construct an identity. Drawing from Bach's extensive literary remains, the brief but thoroughly documented narrative quotes liberally from autobiographical writings by both the professor and her previous persona Michael B. Karoly, a published—and, of course, unlicensed—psychologist. The energy of the chronicle never flags, as its errant subject hoodwinks apartment-hunters, divorcées and government officials; each page is more amusing and unbelievable than the one before. If the ending disappoints, it is only because, at 61, Hajdu/Karoly/Bach finally ran out of steam. 9 color and 4 b&w photos. (Nov. 15)