Catch him if you can

 

The Runner: A True Account of the Amazing Lies and Fantastical
Adventures of the Ivy League Impostor James Hogue

David Samuels
192 pages,
hardcover: $23.
New Press, 2008.

 

Palo Alto High School believed James Hogue was a recently orphaned 16-year-old from a Nevada commune. Princeton University thought he was a self-educated ranch hand who lived alone in the Mojave Desert.

He was neither, as David Samuels explains in his new book, The Runner. James Hogue was actually a remarkable con man, whose elaborate deceptions stretched from the East Coast to the Mountain West. Hogue enrolled in Palo Alto High when he was 26 and was accepted to Princeton six years later. But from the late 1980s until he was arrested in Tucson in 2006, he spent most of his time in wealthy New West tourist towns like St. George, Utah, and Telluride, Colo., stealing everything from custom racing bicycles to the hair-loss drug Rogaine.

Telluride, where Hogue constructed the character he later used to apply to Princeton, is a "good place to come if you want to shed your skin and become someone new," Samuels writes. No one knew Hogue well enough to question his graduate degree in biomedical engineering or his experience in Olympic running trials. Nor did they realize he was assembling a collection of personal possessions purloined from their homes.

The New West helped Hogue get by, but the Old West helped him move up. Princeton swooned for "Alexi Ingris-Santana," the youthful Hispanic cattle herder who read everything from Shakespeare to 1960s black militant H. Rap Brown and spent his nights running under the stars along Purgatory Canyon. "There was something in his story for everyone in the Princeton admissions office," Samuels writes, "from the most impassioned supporter of racial diversity to the most dewy-eyed fan of Thomas Kinkade paintings and John Ford movies."

Rather than judge Hogue, Samuels seeks out the distinctly American elements in his strange story. Hogue might be simply an "advanced liar," but his self-deception and determination to reinvent an unremarkable background are part of the American Dream as found in The Great Gatsby and Huckleberry Finn -- even in the lies Ben Franklin told in his autobiography. 

Hogue's brilliance lay in finding a setting for his reinvention that is so rich (figuratively and literally) and yet so misunderstood. Any reader who has moved out West hoping to build a new life might be moved to ask hard questions about what "the West" really is.

High Country News Classifieds
  • OWN YOUR OWN CANYON - 1400 SF STRAW-BALE ECO-HOME ON 80 ACRES - 3 HOURS FROM L.A.
    1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • WYOMING CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    We are hiring a Wyoming Conservation Associate Full time, competitive pay and benefits. Location: Cody, WY (preferred), Jackson, WY, or Lander, WY Visit www.greateryellowstone.org/careers for...
  • SOUTHWEST REGIONAL DIRECTOR
    The National Parks Conservation Association, the nations leading national park advocacy organization, seeks a Regional Director to lead and manage staff for the Southwest Regional...
  • DIRECTOR OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS
    This newly created position with The Nature Conservancy's Colorado River Program will play a key role in the development and implementation of strategies to achieve...
  • PROGRAM OFFICER, INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES, NOVO FOUNDATION
    The Foundation NoVo Foundation acts from the original meaning of philanthropy: the love of humanity. The Foundation is dedicated to catalyzing a global social transformation...
  • ARMY OF THE DOG
    A new generation of monkey wrenchers hits the Front Range?
  • ANNIE CLARK TANNER FELLOWSHIP IN ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES
    The Tanner Humanities Center and the Environmental Humanities Program of the University of Utah seek an environmental writer to offer classes in Utahs Environmental Humanities...
  • ALASKA STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society works to protect Wildlands and inspire Americans to care for our public lands. We seek to hire a strategic, experienced leader who...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) seeks an individual to lead this 45-year-old organization as executive director, to carry on ICLs work as Idahos leading voice...
  • IDAHO RIVERFRONT:
    2+ acres, 400+ feet on Snake River, 2800 sf residence, NWF-certified wildlife habitat, excellent hunting, fishing, birdwatching, stargazing, sunsets & panoramic views. In the heart...
  • WILDEARTH GUARDIANS IS EXPANDING - THREE JOB OPENINGS
    Guardians is expanding and looking for a few great people to join us in protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health...
  • SUNNYSIDE MARKET SEEKS NEW PROPRIETOR
    Organic grocery/cafe at Glacier Bay needs a vibrant leader. Love good food, community, and Alaska? Join us!
  • NO INDIVIDUAL HEROES: OURAY MOUNTAIN RESCUE TEAM
    Ouray County, Colorado, a popular tourist destination, has dramatic mountains and amazing winter ice climbing. Challenging terrain and high altitude can push visitors to their...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM COORDINATOR - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Coordinator-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM MANAGER - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Manager-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM ASSOCIATE, SOUTHERN CA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Southern CA. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • THE BOOK OF BARLEY -
    Collector's Item! The story of barley, the field crop. 50 years of non-fiction research. www.barleybook.com
  • TEMPORARY ASSISTANT EDITOR
    Are you a climber and a writer who is passionate about mountain literature? Do you love searching through old alpine journals for stories of esoteric...
  • RIVER TRIP LEADER & EDUCATOR
    Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...