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The Woman Who Wasn't There: The True Story of an Incredible Deception Hardcover – April 3, 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 162 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"I finished reading this book weeks ago, but I can't put it down. It continues to haunt me and it will you as well. A story impossible to believe...except it's all true." (Meredith Vieira)

“Alternately heartbreaking and horrifying, The Woman Who Wasn't There is a compelling real-life mystery as disturbing as a psychological thriller. The depths of Tania Head's deception hit me like a punch in the gut.” (Terence Winter, Creator & Executive Producer, Boardwalk Empire)

"Thought provoking, heart wrenching, and unbelievable... Even knowing the outcome, I could not put the book down, awed by the stunning impact of one woman on so many lives." (Marian Fontana, author of the New York Times bestseller A Widow's Walk)

“Taut and riveting as a mystery novel, except that it's all true. The tale of Tania Head, the ‘celebrity survivor’ is a fascinating psychological study of the best and worst of human nature. In their deft, compelling narrative, Robin Gaby Fisher and Angelo J. Guglielmo, Jr. slowly, but inexorably, lift the curtain on one of the saddest, senseless, and yet most spectacular frauds in recent history. You will not be able to put this book down until you finish the last sentence, and when you do, you will shake your head in wonder.” (Amy Ellis Nutt, author of Shadows Bright as Glass and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for the Star-Ledger)

“Not since Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man has a con been portrayed in such an empathetic and yet unsparing manner. At the end of Fisher and Guglielmo's masterfully nuanced portrait, Tania Head's deception of the survivors becomes understandable -- even as it remains unforgivable -- as a remarkable outgrowth of the capacity of the human psyche to deceive others by deceiving itself first." (John J. Farmer, Jr., former Senior Counsel and Team Leader to the 9/11 Commission and author of The Ground Truth: The Untold Story of America Under Attack on 9/11)

“Through the prism of a virtually inconceivable web of lies, Robin Gay Fisher and Angelo J. Guglielmo, Jr. offer deep and compassionate insight into the true legacy of pain, guilt, and existential challenges facing those who experienced and lived through the terror of the September 11 attacks.” (Alice M. Greenwald, Director, National September 11 Memorial Museum)

"Filmmaker Angelo J. Guglielmo Jr., who became one of Tania’s closest friends, teamed with prize-winning journalist Robin Gaby Fisher to write a compelling insider’s view of this audacious post-9/11 episode and the mysteries that remain about motive and morality. ... A fascinating read." (Bob Giles, Retired Curator, Nieman Foundation for Journalism, Harvard University.)

"It's a terrific read. The reporting is tremendous. Robin Gaby Fisher and Angelo J. Guglielmo Jr. have written a detailed and memorable account of the woman who betrayed countless World Trade Center survivors.” (Sandy Padwe, Special Lecturer, Columbia University School of Journalism)

"In this disturbing, riveting reporting of Head’s tenure as the face of the survivor movement, Fisher (After the Fire) and Guglielmo (a filmmaker) depict a woman who inspires anger and heartbreak but also admiration." (Publisher's Weekly)

"A riveting real-life mystery, a probe into the inner depths of humanity. This is a page-turner for every American." (The Star Tribune)

“It's not often that readers encounter a riveting fictional character in a nonfiction book, but that's exactly what happens when they pick up this title. Fisher (After the Fire: A True Story of Friendship and Survival) and filmmaker Guglielmo offer a gripping account of one of the most disturbing scams perpetrated in recent U.S. history, bringing readers close to Tania Head, a walking enigma. Head, claiming to be a 9/11 survivor, brought national attention to fellow survivors of the World Trade Center attacks, but as she helped give hope, courage, and direction to a group of people who needed it, her hidden past threatened to pull everything down. Readers will ride the highs and lows of Head's short but brilliant burst into the national scene. VERDICT This is a fantastic read, cowritten by a man (Guglielmo) whom Head herself asked to film her group for a documentary. The authors' intimacy with their subject makes for a page-turning unveiling of Head's true identity. Recommended for readers who enjoy gripping true crime and tales of deception and survival.” (Library Journal)

“Fisher and Guglielmo team up to bring readers a page-turning account of Tania Head...[A] disquieting retelling of 9/11 by one survivor with a surprising twist.” (Kirkus)

“What emerges is a biography of one of the most loathsome liars in recent history. The prevailing — and largely unanswered question — remains: Why would someone do something so despicable?” (New York Post)

About the Author

Robin Gaby Fisher is the author of the New York Times bestseller After the Fire. She is a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing and a member of a Pulitzer Prize–winning team. She teaches narrative journalism at Rutgers University.

Angelo J. Guglielmo, Jr., is the award-winning director of the documentary The Woman Who Wasn’t There, produced by Meredith Vieira Productions. Visit TheWomanWhoWasntThere.com.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (April 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451652089
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451652086
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (162 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #956,971 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Where were you on September 11, 2001?

This is a question that every American can answer, whether you lived a block from the twin towers or states away. The loss on that day was felt by all of us, but especially by those who were in the towers or had loved ones in those towers. Tania Head was a survivor, who shared her story with the world...or was she?

The Woman Who Wasn't There was an incredibly fascinating story. Tania has one of the most heart-wrenching stories that I've ever heard, from 9/11. Her life is like a wreck on the freeway, it's horrific and ugly and will bring you to tears, but you can't help but watch. I could not put this book down until I had reached the end. And I'm still shaking my head at the sheer madness of it all. Who would do such a thing? WHY would you do such a thing? I have so.many. questions for Tania. And you will too, I'm sure.

I rarely read non-fiction because it moves to slow for my tastes and I get bored. So this 5-star review is an amazing thing coming from me. I rarely pick up non-fiction that falls into the "I can't put it down" category - this one did for sure!

(I received a copy of this book to review)
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First I must say this was a captivating and well-crafted story that I devoured in one sitting.

When you read the first two-thirds of this book it's as if you are reading the story of an incredibly lucky and heroic 9-11 survivor. However, all along, you know how the story ends: she is a total fraud. The last part of the book tells how the whole thing unraveled and how her deception was exposed, but the central question remains unanswered: Why did she do it? I believe the writers of the story tried to get that answer, but like everyone else who reported this in the news, they failed. The simple reason: Tania Head, the person at the center of the storm, isn't talking. That leaves reporters able to check statements and facts, but not motivations. Still, it is a remarkable tale of a brazen deception that went on for five years in the public eye.

The details that unfold in the telling of this story are truly shocking; the breadth and complexity of her deception is quite remarkable. But why?

There have been many newsworthy allegations of fraud in literature in recent years. In every case, critics allege that the perpetrators did what they did for financial gain. The embellished story sold a million books, or made the writer rich. There is an obvious motive, and in most cases, the perpetrator tells his side of the story at some point. With this story, there is no evidence of any financial gain. And the perpetrator will not speak. So we are left with no answers.

One thing that strikes me as strange is that Tania Head seems to have appeared out of nowhere, all by herself, in 2003. How did she get to be forty-some years old with no "life story?" We heard about the made-up husband, but where are her real family and friends?
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Format: Hardcover
In the aftermath of the tragic terrorist demolition of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, many survivors of the massacre connected with one another in a way that only fellow sufferers can understand. As those who lived through the historic day forged friendships with and drew strength from one another, one woman and her amazing story emerged as a survival superstar.

Tania Head, who recounted the tragic loss of her fiancé, Dave, in the collapse of the North Tower, told of her terrifying fight to emerge alive from the Merrill Lynch offices on the 96th floor of the South Tower and bore the physical scars that touched the hearts of Americans in New York City and across the nation. She also recounted the story of a man who came to her rescue during the ordeal. According to her, Welles Crowthers was the very reason she was alive. She even met his family, congratulating them on the heroism of their son and commiserating with them on his loss.

Not only did Tania join forces with the other survivors, she became their leader when she helped them gain access to Ground Zero for a private visit, a privilege previously granted only to the families of the dead. After working tirelessly as a member of the World Trade Center Survivors' Network, Tania was elected president of the organization. In that position, she enjoyed the honor of escorting Mayor Bloomberg, Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki on the initial tour of the site at Ground Zero.

Lauded as an inspiration and a dynamo by her peers, Tania fought her own demons and helped others face theirs. So imagine the shock they experienced when they discovered that not only was their fearless leader nowhere near the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, she wasn't even in the country.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Absolutely couldn't put this book down!
I had seen the documentary on Discovery, and was curious to read the detailed account of events by the people who were at the center of this story. Until I read the book, I had not comprehended the enormity of this woman's (Tania Head) lies, and the effect they had on the vulnerable people who had survived the worst attack in U.S. history.
These survivors took Ms. Head into their hearts and lives, not imagining that someone would lie about a traumatic event such as they had been through. (Indeed, who could do such a thing?)
Although some people have said that Ms. Head deserves our sympathy (I thought so too, until I read the book) it is the survivors, and the people such as the Crowthers who lost their heroic son who deserve our love, sympathy and support. Ms. Head seems to me to be a narcissistic, pathological liar.
These type of people have no regard for others, no sympathy, and certainly no remorse. Her terrible treatment of her friend, Linda, amounted to a second act of terrorism, and her violation of trust of all of the survivors is beyond contempt.
The co-writer of this book, the same man who made the film of the same name, counted Ms.Head as a friend, and treated her story with a touch of sympathy for her. It is sad that the reader can tell that he still misses the friend he thought she was, and searches for any sign of regret or remorse in her. Unfortunately for him and her other countless victims (they were indeed victimized by her) that remorse or apology will never come, as she is incapable of having feelings for anyone but herself.
Even though the reader knows at the outset that Ms. Head was lying about her experiences, it is still a gripping story, and shines a light on the plight of the survivors of 9/11. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is fascinated by human behavior, or wants to learn more about the survivors of the WTC attacks, and their incredible story.
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