Reading: Elizabeth Greenwood

David Locke Hall
Elizabeth Greenwood

Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud

Monday, November 7 at 7:00pm
Is the election making you want to disappear? Need a few tips for how to fake your death in case things don't go your way? Join Elizabeth Greenwood, author of PLAYING DEAD: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud, and journalist Evan Ratliff on Election Eve to discuss PLAYING DEAD and all things vanishing and vaporizing.

Is it still possible to fake your own death in the twenty-first century? With six figures of student loan debt, Elizabeth Greenwood was tempted to find out.

So begins her foray into the world of death fraud, where for $30,000 a consultant can make you disappear—but your suspicious insurance company might hire a private detective to dig up your coffin and find it filled with rocks.

Greenwood tracks down a British man who staged a kayaking accident and then returned to live in his own house while all his neighbors thought he was dead. She takes a call from Michael Jackson (no, he’s not dead—or so her new acquaintances would have her believe), stalks message boards for people plotting pseudocide, and buys her own death certificate in the Philippines. Along the way, she learns that love is a much less common motive than money, and that making your death look like a drowning virtually guarantees that you’ll be caught. (Disappearing while hiking, however, is a way great to go.)

Utterly fascinating and charmingly bizarre, Playing Dead is an empathetic investigation into a universal human fantasy and the men and women desperate enough to give up their lives—and their families—to start again.
"Ms. Greenwood takes us on a romp through the world of the living dead — not zombies, but real folk who for one reason or another decide the best way to go on with life is to fake death. It’s a delightful read, and for anyone tantalized by the prospect of disappearing without a trace it might even provide some useful tips —though Greenwood is careful to caution that “pseudocide” is rarely painless."
— Erik Larson, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Dead Wake
"Elizabeth Greenwood is as entertaining and gifted an archeologist of subcultures as she is an able explorer of issues like anonymity, the right to privacy, and how much control people can ever exert over their identities. An energetic and insatiable writer, her generous mind infuses every page of this astonishing book."
— Heidi Julavits, author of The Folded Clock
"An insightful look at the reasoning behind often desperate choices. Wonderfully weird."
— Deborah Blum, New York Times bestselling author of The Poisoner's Handbook
“Ms. Greenwood leaps into an anecdote-filled history of — and rough primer for — erasing yourself. She shrewdly notes that our fascination with vanishing is only heightened by the ‘hypervisibility of our age.’… The fun in Greenwood’s book — much of it admittedly grim fun — is in learning the details.” 
— New York Times
“It's highly entertaining — the perfect late-summer read.”
—Lenny Letter
"The most literally escapist summer read you could hope for." 
—Paris Review
"Belongs to that genre of popular nonfiction best exemplified by Jon Ronson.... It’s a form that above all requires a likable, self-deprecating, curious narrator, and Greenwood fits the bill."
Elizabeth Greenwood grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her writing has appeared in The Believer and the digital editions of The New Yorker, The Atlantic and VICE. She teaches creative nonfiction at Columbia University. Playing Dead is her first book.
Evan Ratliff is the co-founder and editor in chief of The Atavist Magazine, an eight-time National Magazine Award finalist and two-time Emmy finalist. As a writer, his work also appears in The New Yorker, National Geographic, and Wired. His 2009 Wired story “Vanish” -- about his attempt to disappear and the public’s effort to find him -- was a National Magazine Award finalist and featured in The Best American Magazine Writing. He is currently at work on a book for Random House about the man behind the 21st century's largest international criminal cartel, recounted first in his 2016 Atavist Magazine serial "The Mastermind." 
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