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The Runner: A True Account of the Amazing Lies and Fantastical Adventures of the Ivy League Impostor James Hogue
Synopses & Reviews
A classic american story of a homeless drifter who tries to start a new life by applying to Princeton University, based on the acclaimed New Yorker article.
On the morning of March 30, 1988, a police detective named Matt Jacobson arrived at a storage facility in St. George, Utah, with a warrant to search for stolen bicycles. Among the stolen goods and dusty athletic trophies in Locker 100, Jacobson also found some recent correspondence showing that the thief, James Hogue, had been dreaming of a new and better life as a person named Alexi Santana — a self-educated Nevada cowboy who could run a mile in just over four minutes and had applied for admission to some of America's finest universities, including Stanford, Princeton, and Brown.
Thus began a classic American narrative of self-invention that falls somewhere between The Great Gatsby and The Talented Mr. Ripley, Hogue's story — how he fooled the Princeton University admissions department, got straight A's, made the Princeton track team, dated a millionaire's daughter, and was accepted into the elite Ivy Club before his deception was finally exposed — turns out to be both an intensely affecting profile of a dreamer and the limits of his dream, and a striking indictment of the Ivy League meritocracy to which Hogue wanted so badly to belong.
Taking off from his widely read New Yorker article, David Samuels adds substantial new reporting, telling the sad story of Hogue's itinerant life after he was expelled from Princeton and providing fascinating new insights into the Ivy League's most famous impostor.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A dizzying, exhilarating tale of deception, duplicity and the search for personal identity." Kirkus Reviews
"Hogue, for all his deceptions, was genuinely an elite runner... and Samuels is an elite narrative journalist, a master at teasing out the social and moral implications of the smallest small talk, of the way people turn their heads or slide into non sequitur as they try to explain themselves." Keith Gessen, The New York Times Book Review
"The tale of Hogue's time in Telluride and his Princeton years is particularly engaging and detailed. [The] portrait of Hogue reveals a truly complex figure who is driven, intelligent, incredibly well-read, deceitful, arrogant, scrappy, athletic, curious and, in a way, pathetic in his need to pretend to be someone else." Sam Jemielity, Playboy.com
"[T]he grace with which Samuels unravels the complex character of James Hogue testifies to the author's reputation as a beloved heir to the New Journalists of the 1960s." Nicole Tourtelot, Time Out New York
"'The story of his life would have little, if anything, to do with whatever version of the story I might choose to write,' Samuels notes. This is no writerly cop-out, but a profound truth about the slipperiness of identity....Samuels succeeds in showing a man who's not really sure if he even exists." Richard Rayner, the Los Angeles Times Book Review
"[T]erse, passionate, and complicated." James Hannaham, the Village Voice
The Runner tells the remarkable true story of a drifter and petty thief named James Hogue who woke up one cold winter morning in a storage shed in Utah and decided to start his life anew. Reimagining himself as a self-educated ranch hand named Alexi Indris-Santana who read Plato under the stars and could run a mile in under four minutes, Hogue applied and was accepted to Princeton University, where he excelled academically, made the track team, and became a member of the elite Ivy Club.
Echoing both The Great Gatsby and The Talented Mr. Ripley, the story of Hogues life before and after he went to Princeton is both an immensely affecting portrait of a dreamer and a striking indictment of the Ivy League "meritocracy" to which Hogue wanted so badly to belong. Beginning with the end of Hogues career as a thief in Telluride, Colorado, The Runner takes readers back in time to uncover the true story of Hogues life based on an unlikely trove of documents and the firsthand accounts of those who encountered the many colorful personalities the gifted liar, dreamer, and athlete had made up as he went along.
The Runner is an extraordinary personal story and an absurdist parable of the Ivy League admissions game. It is also a deeply felt exploration of the slippery nature of personal identity in America. Drawing elegant parallels between Hogues ambitions and the American myth of self-invention, while also examining his own uneasy identification with his troubled subject, author David Samuels has fashioned a powerful metaphor for the corruptions of the American dream, revealing his exceptional gifts as a reporter and as a literary stylist.
Based on one of the most talked-about "New Yorker" articles from the past decade, "The Runner" tells how James Hogue created a new identity for himself and lied his way into Princeton University, made the track team, and dated a millionaire's daughter before his deception was finally exposed.
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