Review: The Great Pretenders by Jan Bondeson

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Jan Bondeson, M.D., focuses his medical expertise and insightful wit on the great unsolved mysteries of disputed identity of the last two hundred years. Did the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette really die in the Temple Tower, or did the Lost Dauphin reappear among the throngs of pretenders to the throne? And what does DNA testing reveal about the Dauphin’s mummified heart? Who was Kaspar Hauser: an abused child, the crown prince of Baden, or a pathological liar? In this highly entertaining work covering the most famous cases of disputed identity, Jan Bondeson uncovers all the evidence, then applies his medical knowledge and logical thinking to ascertain the true stories behind these fascinating histories.

People always want to figure out a mystery, even more so when there appears a person who was supposed to have died under unfortunate circumstances. We want to right a cosmic wrong. Yet in the majority of cases it can pretty definitively be said that it’s just wistful thinking and the delusions or lies of someone claiming to be the lost famous person. The author carefully untangles the circumstances and evidence around some of the most famous cases of disputed identity. Never mocking those who believed the pretenders and always trying to keep a fair hand, the evidence stacks up especially with modern advancements. Perhaps the most fascinating part is WHY the person originally went missing or who these people actually were. There’s the additional interest of why these pretenders do what they do. Is it fame? Is it a search for money? Is it for attention? Sometimes the speculated reasoning behind these con games is as hand to look away from as the actual mystery.

4 out of 5

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