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The Poet and the Murderer: A True Story of Literary Crime and the Art of Forgery

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In The Poet and the Murderer, acclaimed journalist Simon Worrall takes readers into the haunting mind of Mark Hofmann, one of the most daring literary forgers and remorseless murderers of the late twentieth century. He was a young Mormon boy who loathed what he believed to be the hypocrisy of his faith, and who devised secret ways to infiltrate and undermine the church. M In The Poet and the Murderer, acclaimed journalist Simon Worrall takes readers into the haunting mind of Mark Hofmann, one of the most daring literary forgers and remorseless murderers of the late twentieth century. He was a young Mormon boy who loathed what he believed to be the hypocrisy of his faith, and who devised secret ways to infiltrate and undermine the church. Mark Hofmann began his career by forging and selling rare Mormon coins, and quickly moved on to creating false, highly controversial religious documents that threw the Church of Latter-Day Saints into turmoil. But it was his infamous Emily Dickinson poem that would prove his greatest deception, stunning the art and literary worlds and earning him thousands from the most distinguished Dickinson scholars. It would also prove his ultimate undoing, when his desperation to keep his greatest forgery a secret drove him to commit ever more heinous crimes-including acts of shocking violence. Filled with the page-turning suspense and tantalizing sleuthing techniques of a literary thriller, The Poet and the Murderer gives us an unforgettable portrait of a deeply irreligious man and a brilliant con artist whose greatest talent-and greatest tragedy--was his ability to conceal his mad genius behind the unique gifts and enduring celebrity of others.


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In The Poet and the Murderer, acclaimed journalist Simon Worrall takes readers into the haunting mind of Mark Hofmann, one of the most daring literary forgers and remorseless murderers of the late twentieth century. He was a young Mormon boy who loathed what he believed to be the hypocrisy of his faith, and who devised secret ways to infiltrate and undermine the church. M In The Poet and the Murderer, acclaimed journalist Simon Worrall takes readers into the haunting mind of Mark Hofmann, one of the most daring literary forgers and remorseless murderers of the late twentieth century. He was a young Mormon boy who loathed what he believed to be the hypocrisy of his faith, and who devised secret ways to infiltrate and undermine the church. Mark Hofmann began his career by forging and selling rare Mormon coins, and quickly moved on to creating false, highly controversial religious documents that threw the Church of Latter-Day Saints into turmoil. But it was his infamous Emily Dickinson poem that would prove his greatest deception, stunning the art and literary worlds and earning him thousands from the most distinguished Dickinson scholars. It would also prove his ultimate undoing, when his desperation to keep his greatest forgery a secret drove him to commit ever more heinous crimes-including acts of shocking violence. Filled with the page-turning suspense and tantalizing sleuthing techniques of a literary thriller, The Poet and the Murderer gives us an unforgettable portrait of a deeply irreligious man and a brilliant con artist whose greatest talent-and greatest tragedy--was his ability to conceal his mad genius behind the unique gifts and enduring celebrity of others.

30 review for The Poet and the Murderer: A True Story of Literary Crime and the Art of Forgery

  1. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Markus

    I was excited to learn that there had been an attempted Dickinson forgery not too long ago. Not only did Mark Hofmann successfully (and profitably) forge Dickinson's writing; he wrote a whole new poem and passed it off as a previously unknown piece of her work. A "new" Dickinson poem is always a possibility. She left behind a disordered mass of writing that, fortunately for all of us, her sister ignored instructions to destroy and instead set about attempting to publish. This was no easy task for I was excited to learn that there had been an attempted Dickinson forgery not too long ago. Not only did Mark Hofmann successfully (and profitably) forge Dickinson's writing; he wrote a whole new poem and passed it off as a previously unknown piece of her work. A "new" Dickinson poem is always a possibility. She left behind a disordered mass of writing that, fortunately for all of us, her sister ignored instructions to destroy and instead set about attempting to publish. This was no easy task for many reasons, including Dickinson's difficult handwriting and her sister's eventual choice of editors -- namely, her brother's mistress. That brother's wife didn't appreciate this choice at all -- and she happened to live right next door, and had her own copies of plenty of Dickinson's poems. More about this in my upcoming review of Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds. Suffice to say, no writer has ever had a more bizarre publication history than Dickinson. Lots of court battles; hatred passed down to the next generation; trunks of precious manuscripts hidden away by people who were NOT Dickinson's literary heirs -- really, it's a wonder any of us have even heard of Emily Dickinson, let alone had the chance to read her work. Anyway. More about that in another review. My point is, the idea of a lost Dickinson poem is a good one, as criminal ideas go, and Mark Hofmann ran with it. Unrelated to this particular forgery, he also murdered two people. My current work in progress involves a young woman who's the focal point of a slew of unsolved murders. She's also obsessed with Emily Dickinson. A case of the poet's life intersecting with that of a murderer seemed like something my heroine would be drawn to. The short review: I would have been better off just reading an article about the forger. The details: The only good I got out of this book was the chance to look at a photo of the forgery. Yes, okay, hindsight is 20-20 and I'm an arrogant jerk for saying this, but I didn't think the writing was especially convincing. There aren't enough dashes, for one thing. The question mark is too tall. And the handwriting is too loopy to be an early poem and too neat to be a late one. (Yes, I'm lucky enough to own The Manuscript Books Of Emily Dickinson, which I never would have been able to afford to buy myself. Thank you, Mama Ginny, for stepping in and letting me pretend to be as rich as my own heroine.) In case you're wondering, here's the poem itself: That God cannot be understood Everyone agrees We do not know His motives nor Comprehend his Deeds --- Then why should I Seek solace in What I cannot Know? Better to play In winter's sun Than to fear the Snow It's not a particularly good poem, as scholars agreed even at the time they believed it was hers. It's also not nearly as shocking as Hofmann, a disillusioned Mormon, apparently thought it would be. Dickinson's poetry is often surprisingly sassy when it comes to religion. Having read a decent number of her poems and letters, as well as a lot of biographical material, I think it's safe to conclude she was an agnostic. She seems to have believed in a God, but not necessarily the Christian one. She didn't feel at all sure there was any afterlife, as we can see from this snippet from a letter to a friend who'd recently been widowed and who talked about seeing his wife in Heaven: You speak with so much trust of that which only trust can prove, it makes me feel away, as if my English mates spoke sudden in Italian. It grieves me that you speak of Death with so much expectation....Dying is a wild Night and a new Road. So Hofmann may not have been as shocking as he expected to be by implying that Dickinson didn't think the mind of God could be known. Unfortunately for me, most of this book is about the rest of Hofmann's career, which was largely involved with Mormon forgeries. Even more unfortunately for me, the parts of this book that deal with Dickinson are so annoyingly misleading and inaccurate that I did a lot of yelling, and I've been trying so hard to cut down on that. He gets little things wrong: After her death many poems and letters were destroyed by her family. Not true. So far as I know, not a single poem was destroyed. Letters written to her were, and her sister Lavinia regretted that immediately -- but it was the custom of the time as well as Dickinson's wish for her to do so. But the poems were recognized immediately as too valuable to go under the match. No forger would know this most private and secretive of poets well enough to know that though she kept almost everyone else in her life at arm's length, she had always felt at ease with children. It would have taken Hofmann months, if not years, of research to get to this level of intimacy with her. Not true at all. One of the best-known stories about Dickinson is her habit during her life of lowering treats in a basket to the children who came to play in the Dickinson yard. One of those children grew up to write a book about how much those kids loved Dickinson because she so clearly loved them. And every major biographer seems in agreement that the death of her young nephew seems to have hastened her own death. And then he gets BIG things wrong: That was the other side of small-town life. Everyone was in everyone else's business. Emily had known that. Eventually she would not even leave her house, so frightened and disgusted was she by the rumors and back-biting, the matrons in black tut-tutting on the street, those mean-spirited shrews, who all claimed to be good Christian women, whispering about Sapphic love and secret meetings she was supposed to have with married men. Where do I even begin? For one thing, Dickinson's famous reclusiveness is famous most of all for being so mysterious. No one knows exactly why she began to stay more and more at home, eventually barely leaving even her own room. Some think this must have been mental illness of one kind or another -- depression and/or agoraphobia certainly don't seem unlikely. One biographer thinks she was epileptic. But none of them can say for certain that they've solved this strange, quiet mystery. Enter Simon Worrall, who apparently managed a posthumous mind meld with the poet! As for the "Sapphic love" -- oh, give me strength. It wasn't until comparatively recently that Dickinson's deep affection for her sister-in-law was considered -- by scholars, not gossipy neighbor women -- to have been perhaps more than just friendly. And even these scholars don't all think this romantic love was ever expressed physically. NO one during Dickinson's life ever thought or said any such thing. If anything, the myth ran too far in the other direction -- that in spite of Dickinson's love for her family, she eventually wouldn't leave her house even to visit dear Sue who lived right next door. And affairs with married men? Unless Worrall's talking about biographers speculating that Dickinson had a crush on married friend Samuel Bowles, I don't know what he could mean. At times, Worrall's inaccuracy leaps into the offensive: Dickinson and her family took great pains to ensure that her secret lover remained secret (there are suggestions that she had a clandestine abortion in Amherst in 1861). (head DESK) The "secret lover" is a reference to a few letters Dickinson wrote but never sent. We have no idea to whom, if anyone, they were intended. Susan Howe, in My Emily Dickinson, makes an excellent argument that these should be regarded as works of literature rather than the pitiful remains of an unrequited passion. One question I've never seen any biographer willing to tackle is why, if these letters were just plain hot stuff meant for a real person, Dickinson kept them in the first place, knowing that someday they were bound to be found by her family. As for the alleged "suggestions" of an abortion -- where? Where are the suggestions? I've been reading a bleep-ton about Dickinson lately (as you may have noticed), and I've never heard a thing about this. What I have heard is that Austin Dickinson's mistress insisted that Sue Dickinson (his wife and Emily's cherished friend) had attempted a few abortions of her own. The fact that this mistress was looking for every piece of fuel she could find to justify her affair with Dickinson's brother means that we should regard her as a hostile witness and take anything she says with a world-record sized boulder of salt. It is clear that Emily Dickinson fell madly, deeply in love with him [Samuel Bowles]. No, it ISN'T. Again, that's one of the mysteries of Dickinson's deeply mysterious life: who, if anyone, did she love in her younger years? She did have a late-life love affair of sorts with Otis Phillips Lord, but this consisted primarily of tender and often passionate letters, and occasional make-out sessions on the sofa. (No, really. She was in her fifties. I was so thrilled to hear about that, I can't even.) That's all we know for sure about her love life. But here comes Worrall, insisting in a book that isn't even primarily about Dickinson that he's the world expert on the things that still baffle other biographers. So, yeah, I learned a lot about forgery in general and Mark Hofmann's career in particular. Maybe. Frankly, given the mistakes Worrall made about Dickinson, I'm worried that the rest of this book may not be particularly credible. I regret to say that -- other than the peek it gave me of the Dickinson forgery -- this book was a huge disappointment.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Schmacko

    This is yet another book about Mark Hofmann, the geeky master forger who in the early 80s set about to bring down the Mormon Church. He was doing a passable job embarrassing the church hierarchy with undetectable forgeries, while also creating and selling letters and “lost works” by some other of America’s great historical figures. Hofmann’s work as a criminal was amazing, beyond reproach. No, his problem was that his debt got the best of him, and he desperately started planting pipe bombs, kill This is yet another book about Mark Hofmann, the geeky master forger who in the early 80s set about to bring down the Mormon Church. He was doing a passable job embarrassing the church hierarchy with undetectable forgeries, while also creating and selling letters and “lost works” by some other of America’s great historical figures. Hofmann’s work as a criminal was amazing, beyond reproach. No, his problem was that his debt got the best of him, and he desperately started planting pipe bombs, killing two people, to try to escape getting caught. But he accidentally detonated one of the pipe bombs on himself, and some very smart people got very suspicious. Thus was caught probably the greatest forger the world has ever known. It’s all fascinating and impressive stuff, and journalist Simon Worrall deftly bookmarks the whole story around Hofmann’s drafting of a lost Emily Dickenson poem. So many people wanted to believe this “new work” was real, and Hofmann’s forgeries and back-stories were so outstanding, that people would not let it die. Over and over, this poem was sold and resold, even by the venerable auction house Sotheby’s, who had a very good idea they were peddling a forgery in 2002, almost 20 years after Hofmann got caught. There are two essential problems with Worrall’s book. One is that two other books, Salamander and The Mormon Forgery Murders, have been written about Hofmann. (Salamander is actually the best of all three). There is only little new to tell, even with Worrall’s framing the story around Dickenson’s “poem” and Sotheby’s deception. This leads us to the second problem. Instead, Worrall spends most of the middle of the book filth-mouthing and maligning the Mormon Church and its history. Truthfully, it is a strange, dark history, but one has to wonder if Worrall himself has the same goal as Hofmann does to bring down the religious institution. So much ugly rhetoric, so much bile and vicious vitriol is flung that one starts to doubt the author’s journalistic integrity. It’s a book supposedly based on history; if a reader (and especially one like me, who knows much about Mormon history) senses such a strong bias on the part of the author, the whole thing begins to smack of forgery.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    Emily Dickinson, Mormons, and forgery, oh my! You'll have to read this true story to find out how these three unlikely things intertwine. (Do I sound like Lavar Burton?) As someone with interests in both unusual religious movements and American literature, I found this book to be really intriguing and enjoyable. Not to mention the forgeries and murders. Read it. You'll see. Emily Dickinson, Mormons, and forgery, oh my! You'll have to read this true story to find out how these three unlikely things intertwine. (Do I sound like Lavar Burton?) As someone with interests in both unusual religious movements and American literature, I found this book to be really intriguing and enjoyable. Not to mention the forgeries and murders. Read it. You'll see.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Malia

    Yikes, this book was pretty awful, and it only gets two stars for having an interesting basic premise. It is shockingly poorly written and can't possibly have been edited, because it is probably 2-3 times as long as it should be, goes on weird tangents, and the writing is incredibly repetitive. The author really has this weird boner for the murderer, and kind of a ridiculous amount of vitriol for Mormons (save that for your anti-Mormon screed book, bro; this one's supposed to be about Emily Dick Yikes, this book was pretty awful, and it only gets two stars for having an interesting basic premise. It is shockingly poorly written and can't possibly have been edited, because it is probably 2-3 times as long as it should be, goes on weird tangents, and the writing is incredibly repetitive. The author really has this weird boner for the murderer, and kind of a ridiculous amount of vitriol for Mormons (save that for your anti-Mormon screed book, bro; this one's supposed to be about Emily Dickinson). Had to skim the last ~40% of it, but I really just wanted to find out about the murdering. Free on kindle; paid too much.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Maureen Stanton

    This was a well-written account of a forged "newly discovered" poem by Emily Dickinson. I enjoyed all the material in this book, and Worrall's painstaking research into how the fake documents were so masterfully made, but the structure was a bit off-putting. The book opens with the story of a curator at the Jones Library in Amherst securing the poem for some $20,000 at auction. This part is great--the excitement, how he raised the money, how the poem was verified (or not really), and its discove This was a well-written account of a forged "newly discovered" poem by Emily Dickinson. I enjoyed all the material in this book, and Worrall's painstaking research into how the fake documents were so masterfully made, but the structure was a bit off-putting. The book opens with the story of a curator at the Jones Library in Amherst securing the poem for some $20,000 at auction. This part is great--the excitement, how he raised the money, how the poem was verified (or not really), and its discovery as a fake. The book then shifts to "the murderer" part of the equation, Mark Hofmann. I'd read the Morman Murders many years ago and so this material was fascinating, but it dominated the remainder of the book, with details about Hofmann's brilliant forgeries of Morman papers and 17th century documents. I kept wondering when we would be back in Amherst to see the fallout of this librarian buying the fake ED poem, how he returned the money (if he did), what the mood was like, basically the effects of a forgery on libraries, acquisitions, verification, collectors, experts, etc. But the books ends with Hofmann's pipe-bomb murders and an interview wtih him in jail. Since I'd known this story, it wasn't new to me, and felt a bit like a rehash of The Morman Murders. But the book is fascinating all the same, and well written.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    This book sucked. There, I said it. I can't understand how it passed an editor's eye. The author (though I haven't met him, so perhaps he's a peach) is an egomaniacal jerk. The story behind the writing is actually pretty interesting...forgery and Dickinson...but how could he go so wrong? Grr. My blood's boiling just thinking about it. This book sucked. There, I said it. I can't understand how it passed an editor's eye. The author (though I haven't met him, so perhaps he's a peach) is an egomaniacal jerk. The story behind the writing is actually pretty interesting...forgery and Dickinson...but how could he go so wrong? Grr. My blood's boiling just thinking about it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Renee

    This was an odd book. I read the disclaimer at the start saying it is a work of fiction, but it covers a historical person and events and certainly tries to act like research and nonfiction. So I felt confused the whole time. I can see from other reviewers that many of his statements are untrue. He does seem to make a lot of assumptions. So I just didn't know what to believe at all. I must say I have never read a book with so many typos and grammar errors. It was distracting and made it feel mor This was an odd book. I read the disclaimer at the start saying it is a work of fiction, but it covers a historical person and events and certainly tries to act like research and nonfiction. So I felt confused the whole time. I can see from other reviewers that many of his statements are untrue. He does seem to make a lot of assumptions. So I just didn't know what to believe at all. I must say I have never read a book with so many typos and grammar errors. It was distracting and made it feel more childish. That said, I was entertained and engaged in the story, so I landed at three stars. Odd read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    AFMasten

    This is a book about a mormon forger and murderer, and since it is narrative nonfiction it meant I had to spend a lot of time with him. I thought it would be more about Dickinson. The book editor Susan Rabiner says that, "Narrative nonfiction is character-driven and highly psychological, focusing on what it is like for an individual or group to go through a particular experience that in some way, real or imagined, threatens the person's or people's sense of well-being." Reading this book made me This is a book about a mormon forger and murderer, and since it is narrative nonfiction it meant I had to spend a lot of time with him. I thought it would be more about Dickinson. The book editor Susan Rabiner says that, "Narrative nonfiction is character-driven and highly psychological, focusing on what it is like for an individual or group to go through a particular experience that in some way, real or imagined, threatens the person's or people's sense of well-being." Reading this book made me realize that I am glad the book I am writing is history rather than NNF. "Serious nonfiction is research-driven argument – whether written by academics, journalists, or independent scholars. While a work of serious fiction may well have some characters and, at times, comment on their psyches, its primary aim is to make sense of an event, an idea, or a time and place. Its goal is to offer a new interpretation, to be explanatory. That's why serious nonfiction lends itself so well to endless re-examinations of known events. The events haven't changed but what we are interested in regarding those events does change as our priorities change and that's what creates room for new interpretations."

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    I just can’t wrap my head around the complete lack of editing. There were so many grammatical errors and factual errors that it made the book almost unreadable. The author couldn’t even get Gandalf’s name right. There are other books about Mark Hofmann. Pick any of them instead of this dreck.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dlora

    The Poet and the Murderer begins with the story of Daniel Lombardo, a curator from Amherst, Massachusetts, who with great fanfare had bought an original, newly discovered poem by Emily Dickson for his town library—-but he soon discovered that the poem was a skillful Hofmann forgery. This sale occurred twelve years after Hofmann had confessed (it’s mind-boggling that many of his forgeries are still in circulation, changing our understanding of people and events). The book, subtitled "A True Story The Poet and the Murderer begins with the story of Daniel Lombardo, a curator from Amherst, Massachusetts, who with great fanfare had bought an original, newly discovered poem by Emily Dickson for his town library—-but he soon discovered that the poem was a skillful Hofmann forgery. This sale occurred twelve years after Hofmann had confessed (it’s mind-boggling that many of his forgeries are still in circulation, changing our understanding of people and events). The book, subtitled "A True Story of Literary Crime and the Art of Forgery," moves on to the history of forgers and their “craft” and then to Hofmann in particular and the elements in his life, his culture and beliefs, that shaped the kind of person he was—-an extraordinary forger and extraordinary con man. Richard Turley’s account in Victims of the Hofmann’s forgeries as they impacted the Mormon church was carefully, almost tediously researched and footnoted and the writing was a bit dry, though the story itself was very compelling. Simon Worrall in his book, on the other hand, focused more on the characters, the whos and whys and wherefores, which was fascinating reading . . . that is until I realized that he wasn’t as careful as Turley to be sure of his facts. It was easy for me as a Mormon to spot the errors, misinterpreted facts, and mean-spirited, slanted explanations about Mormon life and beliefs—-which I think was not so much Worrall’s fault but the fault of the anti-Mormon source material from which he drew his material. It made me think that the same might be true of his depiction of Sothebys, the Gallery of History, Emily Dickinson research, and other events in the story—-how much is true and how much is one-sided? what interpretations were chosen because they made the best story? I began to question Worrall’s objectivity and research. I found it ironic that the author was telling how Hofmann’s forgeries impacted the literary world and yet he didn’t realize that his description of Joseph Smith connection with gold-digging and magic was also colored by Hofmann’s forgeries. I felt that what began as a good book degenerated into a disappointing sensationalist piece of unintended fraud itself.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Amber

    This book reads like a series of vaguely connected articles in The New Yorker or Harper's rather than a chronicle of Hoffman's forgery of Dickinson. In the mid section, the chapters had very little connection to the narrative thread, instead focusing on forgery techniques, the science and psychology of handwriting, and Mormon history. Typically these had one paragraph at the end that reminded the reader they were supposed to be learning about Hoffman. Dickinson is only mentioned in the beginning This book reads like a series of vaguely connected articles in The New Yorker or Harper's rather than a chronicle of Hoffman's forgery of Dickinson. In the mid section, the chapters had very little connection to the narrative thread, instead focusing on forgery techniques, the science and psychology of handwriting, and Mormon history. Typically these had one paragraph at the end that reminded the reader they were supposed to be learning about Hoffman. Dickinson is only mentioned in the beginning and end of the book. Overall the style does not lend itself to easy reading since every chapter end brings about a jarring move to another topic. I found his writing about Mormon history to be particularly off-putting. I am not Mormon, I've barely even met a Mormon, I am agnostic, yet I found his Mormon-bashing to be over-the-top. It's as if he found every negative story in Mormon history and decided to weave them all together. It would make sense because Hoffman hated Mormonism too. Instead of being informative, it comes across as mean-spirited and about half of it I had heard from other sources already with better context. In the end, the most I got out of this was understanding people's motivations, for forgery, murder, secrecy, document collecting, etc. I did not get a clear understanding of the motivation to believe and follow Joseph Smith, Jr., but I can forgive Worrall that since people have been debating it for decades.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mike (the Paladin)

    This is another "atypical" book for me. Except for one period when it was all I read for a while, I never really got into "true crime" books but this one sucked me into a fascinating story. If Hofmann hadn't been so apparently caviler about taking life he'd be an even more fascinating character. (That sort of takes the bloom off the proverbial rose). His talent and intelligence (most of his forgeries were not detected until after he finally "messed up". Some are still out there being mistaken as This is another "atypical" book for me. Except for one period when it was all I read for a while, I never really got into "true crime" books but this one sucked me into a fascinating story. If Hofmann hadn't been so apparently caviler about taking life he'd be an even more fascinating character. (That sort of takes the bloom off the proverbial rose). His talent and intelligence (most of his forgeries were not detected until after he finally "messed up". Some are still out there being mistaken as real historical documents even 20+ years later). He knew how to get or make proper material from paper to inks and was an artist as a forger. He's a real example of "wow this is sad, think of what he might have accomplished if..." He came to hate the strict Mormon church he was raised in. He hated what he saw as an attitude of superiority and the snobbery of collectors. So, he apparently set out to "do something about it". Unfortunately he over spent and got in a desperate situation....and settled on murder as a way to, gain time. It seemed so odd to me reading this that as he made thousands he continued to spend beyond what he could afford. The mind behind these crimes is in so many ways an enigma. This is a well written book and a fascinating story that's more absorbing than fiction. Almost a 5 star...I gave it 4 because I can't give it a 4.5.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Christie

    A fascinating journey of the tale of Mark Hofmann, an infamous literary forger and murderer of the late twentieth century. Hofmann grew up raised in the Mormon faith and in his later years he set out to exploit what he believed to be the hypocrisy of his religion. A self-taught forger, Hofmann created fake and extremely controversial documents that were believed to be from the earliest days of the formation of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Having mastered his trade he moved on to forging lite A fascinating journey of the tale of Mark Hofmann, an infamous literary forger and murderer of the late twentieth century. Hofmann grew up raised in the Mormon faith and in his later years he set out to exploit what he believed to be the hypocrisy of his religion. A self-taught forger, Hofmann created fake and extremely controversial documents that were believed to be from the earliest days of the formation of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Having mastered his trade he moved on to forging literary works of art including supposed lost works by Emily Dickinson. The book gives an excellent overview of the history of the Mormon religion of which I had absolutely no knowledge of prior to reading this book as well as some insight into the life of Emily Dickinson. What I found the most compelling was the lengths that Hofmann went to in order to create these forgeries that were so authentic looking that even world renowned forensic-document specialists were duped. A great tale of true crime that provides some great historical lessons on the Mormon faith and the world of forgery and forensic science that is used to authenticate documents and works of art. Hofmann went to great lengths to master his trade and hide his deceptions, up to and including murder. Along the way he left a trail of innocent victims including members of his own family.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Matt Kelland

    This wasn't what I was expecting - it was better. It starts with the discovery of a forged Emily Dickinson poem, and then delves into the history of a master forger who set out to discredit the Mormon church and ends up turning to murder. It sounds like fiction, but it's all true. If you've enjoyed books about the Hitler Diaries, or Simon Winchester's The Professor & the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity & the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, or the books of Giles Milton, you'll love th This wasn't what I was expecting - it was better. It starts with the discovery of a forged Emily Dickinson poem, and then delves into the history of a master forger who set out to discredit the Mormon church and ends up turning to murder. It sounds like fiction, but it's all true. If you've enjoyed books about the Hitler Diaries, or Simon Winchester's The Professor & the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity & the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, or the books of Giles Milton, you'll love this. Fascinating from beginning to end.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Cathy

    A fascinating look into the world of literary forgery. Besides: I love Emily Dickinson, I went to college in Amherst, and I've toured her house. Some of the asides go pretty far afield and make me wish the author had stayed focused on the central story. A good recommendation, Lisa. Thank you! A fascinating look into the world of literary forgery. Besides: I love Emily Dickinson, I went to college in Amherst, and I've toured her house. Some of the asides go pretty far afield and make me wish the author had stayed focused on the central story. A good recommendation, Lisa. Thank you!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rita

    This book was a quick read and fascinating. You hear of forgeries but I had no idea what has been done and how the experts can be fooled. The book is based on a forgery of an Emily Dickinsen poem but also discusses the history of the Mormon church and the documents forged and sold to the leaders.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne Krueger

    I found this book fascinating. based on a true story of a literary forgerer.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Dancer

    Interesting story, now I want to read about Emily Dickinson and the mormons!!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Irene

    Fascinating. Thus book would be worth the read if only for the chapter on handwriting.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Dana

    Interesting look into the world of historical document forgery

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    True was good, murder was good . . . but I don't care for poetry, so that was not good. The writing was too florid, too descriptive. ugh. Lost interest. True was good, murder was good . . . but I don't care for poetry, so that was not good. The writing was too florid, too descriptive. ugh. Lost interest.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Granny

    Although I cannot imagine doing it myself, I have always seen forgers as the artists of crime. This is not to excuse their deeds or the suffering they cause, but to me that are vastly more interesting than some gang banger on the street. I have read "A Gathering of Saints: A True Story of Money, Murder, and Deceit" by Robert Lindsey years ago. In many ways "The Poet and the Murderer" by Simon Worrall is the other half of that book, although each book can stand alone. "A Gathering of Saints" cover Although I cannot imagine doing it myself, I have always seen forgers as the artists of crime. This is not to excuse their deeds or the suffering they cause, but to me that are vastly more interesting than some gang banger on the street. I have read "A Gathering of Saints: A True Story of Money, Murder, and Deceit" by Robert Lindsey years ago. In many ways "The Poet and the Murderer" by Simon Worrall is the other half of that book, although each book can stand alone. "A Gathering of Saints" covers the loss of faith of the forger and killer Mark Hoffman, and the devious plan he concocted to shame the Church of Latter Day Saints while appearing to be a devout Mormon, and make money from his fraud to boot. At the end of that book, one of the detectives opines that there is no way to know how many of Hoffman's forgeries are out there, hanging proudly on someone's wall, being bought and sold. For Hoffman did not only forge LDS documents, he forged signatures and letters purportedly by Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Daniel Boone and - in the case of "The Poet and the Murderer", Emily Dickinson. The Emily Dickinson forgery is the "Poet" of the book, and much of the book speaks of her or the forgery of her work directly or indirectly. Then; like a dark cloud approaching, Mark Hoffman enters the narrative and intertwines a deeply shy, innocent genius, with a gifted con man who is an even more gifted forger. There is much about the book I cannot share, I wish to leave the surprises in store for the reader to find. But I can that this is a fascinating book, an interweaving of good and evil, full of twists that I have not found in any other book on Hoffman. It does an excellent job of unraveling the mind of a gentle genius, and also of a sociopath who put more effort into the success of a devious plan, than he would have needed to put into an honest venture to make it a roaring success. And remember, he was willing to kill to make his plan work.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Anson Cassel Mills

    Simon Worrall retells the remarkable story of master forger and sociopath Mark Hofmann. A facile popular treatment--there is no index--the book also includes loosely connected chapters on Emily Dickinson, the history of forgery, and the questionable ethics of major auction houses. Nevertheless, Worrall needs better editing. Not only does he repeat himself, he also makes a number of small errors about Mormon history and practice. If Worrall believes, as I do, that Joseph Smith was a fraud and a se Simon Worrall retells the remarkable story of master forger and sociopath Mark Hofmann. A facile popular treatment--there is no index--the book also includes loosely connected chapters on Emily Dickinson, the history of forgery, and the questionable ethics of major auction houses. Nevertheless, Worrall needs better editing. Not only does he repeat himself, he also makes a number of small errors about Mormon history and practice. If Worrall believes, as I do, that Joseph Smith was a fraud and a sex addict, then he might have increased his credibility with more judicious language and more careful checking of his facts. Furthermore, Worrall might better have tied Emily Dickinson’s fist-shaking against God with Hofmann's, using any number of quotes from the teenage Dickinson to draw parallels with Hofmann’s rebellion against Mormonism during the same period of his life. For instance, the fifteen-year-old Dickinson wrote, “The world allured me & in an unguarded moment I listened to her siren voice. From that moment I seemed to lose interest in heavenly things…. I felt my danger & was alarmed, but I had rambled too far to return & ever since my heart has been growing harder.” (Fortunately, Dickinson was not attracted to forgery or explosives.) Finally, after hypothesizing that Hofmann was largely motivated to commit his crimes by his enmity against the LDS Church, Worrall should have examined the extent to which the Hofmann forgeries damaged Mormonism. Such a conclusion to the book would have been more satisfying than Worrall's retailing of self-serving statements by Hofmann’s ex-wife or his attempt to turn Amherst curator Daniel Lombardo into the tale's hero.

  24. 5 out of 5

    David Carniglia

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Pretty good read. I'd give it 3 1/2 stars, if I could. The author takes us through the 'art' of literary forgery back to the time of ancient Egypt. More recently, and more notoriously, he mentions the forged 'diaries' of Hitler and Jack the Ripper. The book is really about Mark Hofmann, a master forger and murderer. He managed to forge documents from no less than 130 historical figures (including Emily Dickinson); selling them for immense amounts over a period of years. Hofmann is really a slimy, Pretty good read. I'd give it 3 1/2 stars, if I could. The author takes us through the 'art' of literary forgery back to the time of ancient Egypt. More recently, and more notoriously, he mentions the forged 'diaries' of Hitler and Jack the Ripper. The book is really about Mark Hofmann, a master forger and murderer. He managed to forge documents from no less than 130 historical figures (including Emily Dickinson); selling them for immense amounts over a period of years. Hofmann is really a slimy, amoral dude. By following the twists and turns of Hofmann's deceptive practices, we get a psychological picture: an incredibly manipulative person who could adjust his charm level to get what he wanted. His main target was the Mormon church (LDS). He not only made a fortune from blackmailing the LDS (to prevent public exposure of incriminating documents), he also sealed his doom by outwitting himself that he could continue fooling the church. Worrall missteps, it seems, when he makes assumptions about what constitutes forgery and handwriting analysis, but, overall this is an interesting and entertaining read. The title is a bit misleading, as the poet is pretty much a minor figure for most of the book. That didn't bother me, because it's not presented as a biography anyway. Good read for Goodreaders.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Really can’t say I liked this book. The author obviously thinks Mormons are cults and that their religion is nonsense... a personal opinion that is purported through out the entire book. If comparing their religious leaders as communists and their founding doctrine as mythological is any sense of how the author feels it is demeaning and condemning in this sense... it made me believe that the reason the author decided on this subject because he wished that some of Hofmann forgeries were true abou Really can’t say I liked this book. The author obviously thinks Mormons are cults and that their religion is nonsense... a personal opinion that is purported through out the entire book. If comparing their religious leaders as communists and their founding doctrine as mythological is any sense of how the author feels it is demeaning and condemning in this sense... it made me believe that the reason the author decided on this subject because he wished that some of Hofmann forgeries were true about the LDS church and shared the same view as the forger. And probably laughed his way through learning about how this man created several forgeries that were purchased by the Mormon church as he would believe was funny having pulled the wool proverbial speaking over the eyes of one of the fastest growing churches today. Having said that, if the author had not been so flowery about his language about their religion, this would have been a more credible book... as written I would consider it anti-Mormon literature disguised as a true crime novel.... the author celebrating and admiring a charlatan.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Johnson

    I have already used the trivia I learned from this book in 2 conversations! fairly easy read, some parts stretched out too much without much to say. I learned more about the Book of Mormon and Emily Dickinson, and how collecting historical documents is the trend among the nouveau riche. Think of the good that could be d one with that money.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Aoife

    this is not a text explicitly about the forged Emily Dickinson poem and Mark Hoffman’s murders, but a large focus on his entire criminal career, especially his duping of the church of LDS; not what I expected going in but I still loved it because of my interest in religious groups as well how well researched it is.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ronda Heppner

    Extraordinary! This is a fascinating tale of genius and deceit. I recommend it to all who are students of truth and the hidden nature of human beings. Very educational, and written from the heart of a true lover of the written word and the hand which guides it.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sacha

    3.5 stars really. Very much about the Mormon church/ history/ community. Bought this mistaking the author for Simon Winchester. Could have been much worse.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Abby

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I enjoyed reading this book, but I feel like it was sold using false advertising. Most of the book covers and seems to be centered around Mark Hofmann's fraud crimes/forgeries as they related to the Mormon church, not necessarily his forgery of an Emily Dickinson's poem. It made for a compelling read, but if you go in thinking that this is all about the E. Dickinson poem, you might be disappointed. I enjoyed reading this book, but I feel like it was sold using false advertising. Most of the book covers and seems to be centered around Mark Hofmann's fraud crimes/forgeries as they related to the Mormon church, not necessarily his forgery of an Emily Dickinson's poem. It made for a compelling read, but if you go in thinking that this is all about the E. Dickinson poem, you might be disappointed.

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