Friday, September 4, 2015

Book Review: Catch Me If You Can by Frank W. Abagnale Jr.

Like most people these days, I learned about this book by seeing the film staring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks years ago. I'm always curious to see how true these "true story" films are, so I decided to give the book a read.

Catch Me If You Can is the story of Frank William Abagnale Jr., also known as The Skyway Man - one of the most successful con artists of our time. Frank took advantage of his natural gifts (example: always looking much older than he was, being very outwardly confident, serious attention to detail, etc) and used them to steal millions and millions of dollars from banks and airlines in the early 1960s. Frank learns how banks and checks work and proceeds to pass bad checks, progressing to opening accounts under false names, then falsifying checks and even printing his own legitimate checks. Frank impersonated a Pan Am airline pilot and flew to different cities for free every few days and then cashed his bad checks all over before leaving to do it again somewhere else. By the time the banks learned that the checks were bad, Frank was long gone to another place. He went from impersonating a pilot to a doctor then a lawyer. He flew all around the US and Europe and South America. He bedded many trusting women. Frank did all these things before being caught in France at the age of 20. The buck stopped for him a bit during his 5 month term in a French prison that seemed to be the same as it was in the middle ages. He then served time in Sweden before returning to the United States to serve time there as well.

I have to say that I did not care for this book on moral grounds. Before you roll your eyes and call me a prude, hear me out. I don't mean that I have a problem with the many references to his dealings with women or even his brazen theft and falsification. I enjoyed reading this book and learning all the crazy things he did until I reached the end. The reason I, along with most of the country who saw the film based on this man's life, enjoyed the movie is because he comes to justice in the end and the film makes it a point to tell of the national good that came from this man's experience. Frank Abagnale later went to work with the FBI and helped develop our modern checks and banking system to keep people like him from being able to take advantage of loop holes. In the film, Frank "turns his life around" and does good for humanity, which leaves you with a feeling that he made up for his wrongs. The book on the other hand is nothing but a cocky, "look how cool I am" epitaph to his own personal genius. He admittedly never feels that he deserves to be in prison, and even tries to make the reader feel bad for the inhumane way he was treated by the French. He never seems to hit bottom and accept what he has done and the drastic effect he had on countless people and businesses, so he looks on his prison time as being unfair - which is just incredibly immature and borderline sociopathic. The biggest offense I took though is how the book ends *spoiler alert if you want to read it yourself*. The story concludes with Frank's "final caper" (at least the last one you hear about) where he escapes federal prison and drives off into the sunset with his hot girl friend. This was just the cherry on top with the lack of any morality whatsoever. He just basically says, "Ha ha, I'm so much smarter than everyone," and goes off to screw the world over again. And is completely unrepentant about it. When I finished the book, I was honestly upset that I supported this man by reading his book - thank heaven I didn't buy it myself, but I'm even upset about the money he got from my library buying it. It was interesting to hear how lax the financial system was back in the 1960s, and it's undeniable that the story is interesting just for curiosity's sake, but knowing what I do now about the tone of the book, I would not have read it. I give this book 3 out of 5 stars.

1 comment:

  1. Abagnale sounds like a psychopath. They are rarely repentant. Even if they were, I doubt their sincerity. I've known a few -- they're interesting, annoying, and inhumane. Thanks for the sharing the book review.


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