I feel a bit self-conscious sharing a review for a book as well-known as this one and not at all new, but I’m trying to move past that.
Catch Me If You Can is a title I first heard of back in high school, when my economics teacher showed us part of the movie, and I made sure to file this title away in my mind to revisit later on.
I hadn’t intended to wait so long, but now, here we are 8 years later, and I finally read the book (and, as of last night, saw the whole movie, too).
If you haven’t already heard of it, Catch Me If You Can is the story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., a man stole millions of dollars in the 1960s thanks to his various scams and impersonations.
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A Bit About The Story
Catch Me If You Can: The Book
At the start of the book, Abagnale explains that he impersonated a pilot, doctor, lawyer, and college professor and “made” millions of dollars all before turning 21.
Just the impersonations alone had me dying to read more.
We all joke about what we would say or do if we were in a given profession, but few of us ever have the chance to act those hypothetical scenes out.
While Abagnale was still a teenager, his parents divorced and he eventually ran away from home. That’s how all of this began; with no place to go and no way to support himself, he started cashing bad checks as a way to get by. He quickly learned that banks and other businesses were more willing to cash checks (and that stores in particular would cash checks of a larger amount) for airline personnel, and that’s when he decided to “become” a pilot.
What I found the most fascinating about this story is, while Frank is clearly a criminal and possibly suffering from some mental issues, he is just so clever. For example, when he decided to start presenting himself as a pilot for Pan Am, he didn’t just put on the uniform and see what would happen; he researched the terminology, equipment, and even a bit about Pan Am too, to make sure he could really blend in. He even made himself a phony ID card and pilot’s license that multiple actual professionals looked at and did not realize were fake!
I realize I may be glorifying this guy’s cons, and maybe I am, but if you’ve read this book, I’m sure you can understand my amazement.
At the very least, you gotta admit that this story is wild!
I finished the book on Thursday, and we watched the movie Friday night, so the story was still pretty fresh in my mind.
As with any other film adaptation, there’s going to be discrepancies between the book and the movie. (Interestingly, though, the movie rights to the story were sold long before there was a book.)
I believe the book was a more accurate account, while the movie was tinged with some Hollywoodness. For the most part, I could appreciate the movie; I love Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio is a damn good actor, if nothing else.
One part of the movie that irked me at first was, in between stints, Frank writes home to his father, letting him know of his latest endeavors. He doesn’t admit he’s a con man, but he still keeps his father in the loop as to his whereabouts and the latest hat he’s wearing…. This didn’t happen in the book, though. As the story was told in the book, Frank ran away and lost touch with his parents for years, not seeing or hearing from them again until just before he was finally caught.
Initially, I wondered why the movie would change such a major detail, but then I realized: Frank’s letters to his father help link each different escapade to one another.
See, in the book, a lot of the rationale for each new impersonation/ identity is explained by Frank’s thoughts. As he gets settled into each new phony persona, he realizes he’s got limited time before someone catches on and he gets arrested, so he relocates and changes identities to avoid being caught.
But in a movie, you need more narrative to explain the constant moving, planning, and reasoning behind each different location and disingenuous career.
So I guess I forgive Steven Spielberg for that one…
I rarely ever do this, but I have to give this book 5 out of 5 stars; it really was that good. Not only was the story fascinating, true, and insanely satisfying; the book was incredibly well-written, too. You can tell that you’re reading the work of an intelligent person (or people; let’s not discount Stan Redding’s work).
I almost can’t believe it took me so long to read this book, but I’m glad I finally got around to it. The funny thing is, it wasn’t even on my mind, but when I saw the paperback in the True Crime section at the bookstore, I knew right away I needed to have it.
I like purchasing either non-fiction books or incredibly well-written novels, because those are the only kinds of stories I can see myself reading more than once.
Plus, this story is so interesting and so well-known that it’s fun to display a copy of the book on my shelf.
Order Your Own Copy
If you love a good memoir, you’ve gotta check out this book. Here are some handy little links to get your own copy: