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The Runner: A True Account of the Amazing Lies and Fantastical Adventures of the Ivy League Impostor James Hogue Hardcover – April 8, 2008
From Publishers Weekly
In this extended riff on Samuels's New Yorker article of the same name, the author pursues James Hogue, portrayed as a cunning, intelligent drifter who at age 28, in 1988, created a new identity for himself as Alexi Santana, a 16-year-old cowboy, who became the Princeton University admissions committee's darling. Santana's Princeton matriculation was delayed because, unbeknownst to school authorities, Hogue was doing time for bicycle theft. One year later, Santana, a talented runner, entered the school without a hitch until a track meet spectator outed the impostor during his sophomore year. Though Samuels has a gift for contextualizing people and events, he misses his mark in this repetitive and fragmented profile. He is so taken by his elusive subject, whom he calls a convicted fabulist, that he lets Hogue, a compulsive liar and criminal with repeated offenses, off the hook far too easily. To Samuels, Hogue's behavior is as harmless as the youthful lies the author formerly told strangers on airplanes. But the lie and the con are not one and the same, and the reader winces as Hogue cons his way past Samuels's otherwise intelligent grasp. (Mar.)
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A dizzying, exhilerating tale of deception,duplicity and the search for personal identity. -- Kirkus Reviews
Engaging and detailed...reveals a truly complex figure who is driven, intelligent, incredibly well-read, deceitful, arrogant, scrappy, athletic. -- Playboy.com, Sam Jemielity
Haunting...Samuels succeeds in showing a man who's not really sure if he even exists. -- Los Angeles Times, Richard Rayner
Samuels is an elite narrative journalist, a master at teasing out the social and moral implications of the smallest small talk. -- The New York Times Book Review, Keith Gessen
Terse, passionate, and complicated. -- The Village Voice, James Hannaham
The grace with which Samuels unravels [a] complex character...testifies to the author's reputation as a beloved heir to the New Journalists of the 1960s. -- Time Out New York, Nicole Tourtelot
Top customer reviews
Under this false identity, Hogue managed to get himself admitted to Princeton where he attended for two years--after serving a year in jail for theft, unbeknownst to the hapless admissions department, who unaccountably idolized this fictional applicant. Hogue was recognized and outed at a track meet--he really was a good runner, about the only real fact about him--and returned to prison. The fact that he was ten or fifteen years older than his fellow students, kept mostly to himself, and exhibited other strange anomalies didn't raise an eyebrow. The Ivy League insiders who championed Hogue and fell for his made-up biography--swooned over it in fact--come off as incredible dupes.
Samuels explains their foolish mistake by pointing out that the Ivy League needs just the type of "diversity" Hogue offered up, in order to dilute the perception that most of their students are elite insiders by birthright. Every one of the elite universities has an unwritten quota of deserving minority admissions--students who get accepted on the strength of their grades, creativity, and genuine hard work; and they were all too happy to include this person with the Euro-Hispanic name Alexi Idris-Santana.
Samuels tells the story well, and I enjoyed some of his ruminations on the nature of identity, truth, and man's relationship to his world, but they became a little tiresome. I wanted more plot and a bit less theory. Samuels himself attended the Ivy Leagues and it's nice to hear a real insider expose the, after all, shoddy practices by which the elite pass on their elitism to their offspring regardless of merit while keeping up the appearance of fairness.