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Amazing tales of a con man who circled the world. Biography of a scoundrel

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The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln, by Bernard Wasserstein. New Haven: Yale University Press. 332 pp. $12.95. IGNACZ TREBITSCH LINCOLN (1879-1943) was a self-absorbed international adventurer and con man whose greatest con was becoming the subject of this book.

His ex post facto accomplice is Bernard Wasserstein, a serious scholar who has chosen to thumb his nose at scholarly conventions by skimming this intellectual Frisbee across the high table, as he blends the British delight in eccentrics and scholars with the American interest in personalized and highly spiced history. Is it People magazine that Wasserstein is following? Or some individualistic agenda?

First, the book itself.

Trebitsch's (he added Lincoln in 1904 to enhance his credibility in Britain) ``career'' requires few words. Born in Hungary, he was dazzled by Budapest's glitter and by gold watches, not necessarily his own. He emigrated (fled?) to Britain, was converted from Judaism to Christianity, joined missionary enterprises to the Jews in Montreal and elsewhere, and - because of his language skills and golden chatter - became a research assistant and prot'eg'e of a wealthy, reform-minded British industrialist.

Having gained a taste for the great world, Trebitsch was briefly elected to Parliament in 1910, with his patron's close backing. With World War I, Trebitsch - who always needed cash - plunged into espionage and counterespionage, trying to play the British and Germans against each other, and writing some wildly sensational (and completely untruthful) memoirs in the process.

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