Errol Morris: Bamboozling Ourselves

Why do people believe in imaginary returns, frauds and fakes?

Bernard Madoff, A.I.G., W.M.D.’s … How did this happen? Do we believe things because it is in our self-interest? Or is it because we can be manipulated by others? And, if so, under what circumstances?

Last year, two different books on that subject appeared within months of each other. Not only did both tackle the question of fakery, they were both about the same man: Han van Meegeren, arguably the most successful art forger of all time. Edward Dolnick’s “The Forger’s Spell” was released first (Edward Dolnick’s wife is on the board of The New York Times Company), followed by Jonathan Lopez’s “The Man Who Made Vermeers.” The titles provide a clue to the different goals of the authors — Dolnick’s interest in the nature of the trickery, the spell that Van Meegeren cast; Lopez’s interest in the nature of the man who did the tricking, the man who cast the spell.

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