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Copies of Frey's "A Million Little Pieces" are put on display in a bookstore in New York. (© Seth Wenig / Reuters / Corbis)

Five Fake Memoirs That Fooled the Literary World

Fiction was stranger than truth in these examples of authentic autobiographies that were anything but that

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4. The Autobiography of Howard Hughes by Clifford Irving

Writer Clifford Irving had already received a $765,000 advance and had delivered his manuscript of The Autobiography of Howard Hughes to publisher McGraw-Hill by the time the billionaire industrialist finally came forth to sue the publisher, saying that he had never met with Irving or given his approval for the project. Irving had gambled badly that the reclusive Hughes would never surface to denounce the hoax. By forging letters and setting up phony interviews, Irving had convinced the publisher and several key experts that the autobiography was authentic. He’d also managed to obtain a copy of a manuscript about Hugh’s right-hand man, which gave Irving’s work its remarkable detail.

After the swindle unraveled in 1972, Irving spent 17 months in prison. His book on the experience, The Hoax, was made into a film starring Richard Gere in 2007.

5. The Hitler Diaries

In 1983, the German magazine Stern published excerpts from some 60 volumes of Adolf Hitler’s diaries that had allegedly survived a crash near Dresden of a transport plane carrying the Führer’s personal effects. The sheer scope of the diaries, spanning 1932 to 1945, and their banal detail had persuaded British historian and Hitler expert Hugh Trevor-Roper of their authenticity. But Stern’s desire for secrecy on their sensational scoop had held it back from seeking more authoritative testing. Comprehensive analysis revealed historical inaccuracies in the text and inks and paper that dated after World War II.

The editor at Stern who had instigated the deal and the diaries’ forger were sentenced to four and a half years in prison for duping and defrauding the magazine, which had paid the equivalent of roughly $3.5 million for the counterfeit journals.

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