London Review of Crooks

Writing about how (not) to commit fraud by Walter Benjamin, Deborah Friedell, Daniel Soar, Vadim Nikitin, Steven Shapin, Pooja Bhatia, James Lasdun, Bee Wilson, John Lanchester and Robert Marshall-Andrews. 

Stamp Scams

Walter Benjamin, translated by Jeffrey Mehlman, 8 September 1994

You are aware that as soon as there are stamp-collections there are forgeries, which is a rule without exception, and that alongside crude and very approximate forgeries aimed at fools there are some over which the world’s greatest experts have come to grief, and others which it has taken decades to establish were counterfeit, when indeed that is possible.

A chemistry is performed: Silicon Valley Girl

Deborah Friedell, 7 February 2019

Elizabeth Holmes was said to be the ‘youngest self-made female billionaire’ of all time. And why not? Her invention was going to be the reason people – Americans first, but eventually everyone in the world – would lead better, healthier, longer lives. Why shouldn’t she have a private jet, a private chef, a team of bodyguards who would say into their mouthpieces: ‘Eagle One is on the move’?

Short Cuts: Sokal 2.0

Daniel Soar, 25 October 2018

I’m not persuaded that the hoaxers have proved, through their writing, that cultural studies are a sham. One of the papers that got accepted but hadn’t yet been published before the story of the hoaxing broke was entitled ‘When the Joke Is On You’. I think the joke’s on them: the only way they could get away with what they did was obediently to produce exactly the kind of work that the field requires.


Vadim Nikitin, 21 February 2019

Kleptocracy works like this: steal, launder, spend. Developing and post-Soviet countries are where most of the money is stolen, but it is here in the UK and in other apparently clean and well-governed places where it is laundered and spent – on things like luxury properties and private school fees.

Diary: Media Theranos

Pooja Bhatia, 4 November 2021

I had left Ozy Media in 2017 without exercising my stock options, believing the likeliest outcome for the company was not an acquisition or an IPO, as Watson insisted, but slow shrinkage, dwindling to a quiet death. Like most start-ups, the company would run out of runway. Instead, it blew up.

Bats on the Ceiling: The Gospel of St Karen

James Lasdun, 24 September 2020

Certainly one wants at times to shake off this clammy individual, to say: pah, sociopath, case closed, not interesting. But something about this artful, artless wife-of-Jesus scheme of his, spreading out under Karen King’s Harvard-accredited endeavours like their disreputable shadow, urges a fuller accounting.

I am the fifth dimension!

Bee Wilson, 27 July 2017

The story of Gef is both brilliantly silly and irreducibly mysterious. After seven years of research into the legend of the talking mongoose, Josiffe, a librarian at Senate House, is still not entirely clear about the nature of the hoax or who in the family was hoaxing whom. In any case, he leaves open the possibility that Gef lived and talked and ate lean bacon exactly as the Irvings claimed he did.


John Lanchester, 4 August 2022

Volkswagen didn’t need to pay any attention to what regulators thought, because it knew better than the people who made the rules. We are the car people; we want to make diesel engines; our diesel engines will not pass tests; therefore the tests are wrong and must be circumvented. 

London Review of Crooks

Robert Marshall-Andrews, 15 July 1982

The existence of violent, sadistic and resourceful criminals is an unhappy fact of life, and even if the author goes to considerable pains to underline their culpability and to scorn their protestations of innocence, which Mr Parker certainly does, there is no doubt that this type of highly personalised saga (it is ‘Charlie’ and ‘Eddy’ throughout) invites a substantial degree of sympathy with the villains and dignifies their lives with attention they ill deserve.

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