Top 10 Famous Liars Throughout History

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Lying gets a bad rap but, oftentimes, it can help keep life interesting. Lies can inspire people to greater heights of achievement, even as they often sink the liar to lower depths. Lies save more lives and livelihoods than you’d ever believe (trust us; we’d never lie about that.) So here’s to ten of those who most successfully raised dishonesty to an art form.

10. Herodotus

herodotus

This ancient Greek historian recorded the events surrounding the Greco-Persian war in the fifth century B.C., as seen in such films as 300. A contemporary described him as “the father of lies” and one esteemed historian of the times, named Thuycides, called him a mere “storyteller.” In The Cartoon History of the Universe, Prof. Larry Gonick revealed that those lovely quotes from Spartan king Leonidas like “come and get them!” when they were told to surrender their weapons, or the responding to the Persian threat that their arrows would blot out the sun with, “then we shall fight in the shade” were 100% fabricated. Probably no other historian’s lies have done so much to entertain audiences.

9. Robert Ripley

Robert-Ripley

When a person starts a cultural institution called “Believe It or Not,” you have to expect that the truth will not be a barrier to a good story. Goodness knows the empire his novelty facts publications that started in 1929 (with a complaint about America’s lack of national anthem) showed that the scheme worked. By 1932, he’d been voted “most popular man in America,” and had films, magazines, comic strips, and a radio show devoted to him. There are now museums around the world devoted to him, and Ripley exhibitions are covered by the New York Times. Unfortunately, his legacy introduced such nonsense into the public psyche as the idea that Albert Einstein flunked math as a child.

8. Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin

Robert-houdin

In 1856, French authorities in Algeria were threatened by a revolt. Learning that the rebel forces were being influenced by the alleged magical abilities of their mullahs (the Islamic equivalent of priests,) Robert-Houdin was dispatched to one-up their magic. Doing such tricks as the infamous bullet catch, and one with an electromagnet (where he made strong men seem too weak to lift containers with metal,) he nonviolently prevented a rebellion in Algeria for much of the century. During his career, he all but created much of what we see in modern magic, including the traditional magician suit template (which was nice, but probably didn’t prevent too much bloodshed.)

7. Count of St. Germain

Count-of-St-Germain

He was an 18th-century court regular of Louis XV, serving as a diplomat, a secret agent, a composer, and author. He also claimed to be a magician capable of various elaborate forms of alchemy. Most importantly, he first won court favor by claiming to remove flaws from gems, and managed it by taking a low value gem, and switching it out with a flawless one he found elsewhere in France. He claimed to be in with many secret societies, and that he was four thousand years old. Amazingly, some devout followers believe he is still alive today.

6. Jasper Maskelyne

jasper-maskelyne

“If I could stand in the focus of powerful footlights and deceive attentive and undisturbed onlookers, separated from me only by the width of the orchestra pit, then I could most certainly devise means of deceiving German observers a mile away or more.” That’s not a quote from Maskelyne himself, but from a movie made about him, 2001’s The War Illusionist. It captured the spirit of his accomplishments however, especially the untrue ones. During World War II, he perfected the innovative “fake army for surveillance” technique that made the Normandy invasion successful, and helped liberate North Africa from the Axis. Then he hilariously exaggerated his accomplishments, by making claims that he invented a flashing light system that disrupted German night bombing runs. It’s a shame there’s only the one movie about him so far.

5. Aleister Crowley

Aleister-Crowley

These days, Crowley is mostly famous for being a supposed member of magical societies in Great Britain in the early-20th Century, and for seeming like he was just messing about, because there was a period of religious revivalism in the late-19th century that he was needling. He also claimed to possess the power to make himself invisible, among other things. Then he lampooned his own claims with “The Book of Lies,” which was a ninety-three page book, with ninety-three chapters, where he made even more obviously untrue claims. But then (and this really is too good to be true,) he claimed to have actually been offered induction into the Freemason Society, on the basis of his knowing “the secret.” He turned the group down however, because he’d made up the secret.

4. Raoul Wallenberg

raoul-wallenberg

Returning to the subject of lying to the Nazis, Raoul Wallenberg’s magnificent lies saved thousands of lives in Hungary in 1944. In history’s greatest act of forgery, this Swedish representative distributed thousands of illegal phony passport visas, that would allow Jews who had been previously seeking relative asylum in Hungary passage to Sweden. He went so far in his pursuit to save people, that he was known to physically stand on top of moving trains, in order to continue handing them out to passengers.

3. Harry Gerguson

harry-gerguson

After the Romanoffs were killed in 1917, many people came forth to claim to be lost royal stock. No one was more successful than Harry Gerguson, who was actually just a New York City orphan. Most of his success stemmed from the fact that he kept claiming, up until his death in 1962, he was actually Michael Romanoff. He would keep up this lie even after he’d been arrested, sued, and deported from America ten times. In fact, he used his invented royal credentials (which almost all royal credentials are, to be honest) to found a high-profile Hollywood restaurant, make the usual celebrity friends, and enroll in Harvard. It just goes to show: stick to the lie, and eventually people might find the whole thing charming.

2. Alan Abel

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Abel, during the height of his campaign to clothe all naked animals for the sake of decency, poses with a copy of INSIDE SINA.

Sufficiently high-profile enough that the New York Times published his 1980 obituary (which was exposed as a lie two days later,) Alan Abel is a still-surviving prankster that likes to embarrass major news outlets and satirically point out how willing people are to get angry over nothing. His awesome list of pranks that he’s pulled on the public include “The Society for Indecency to Naked Animals,” which got worldwide coverage by demanding animals receive clothing, the prisoner advocacy group “Females for Felons,” and numerous other incidents and phony organizations. You can, and should, read all about it at his website.

1. Wilhelm Voigt

wilhelm-voigt-soldier-and-not

Not many people can become national folk heroes by simply lying about being in the armed forces. Of the ones that do, almost none of them do it with the zest that Wilhelm Voigt brought in 1906. Renting a fake captain’s uniform that didn’t fit and wasn’t kitted properly, while also fresh from a life of destitution due to a lack of a work permit, he went to a barracks, ordered ten soldiers to come with him as an honor guard, and went to the city hall of Berlin suburb Koepenick. There he had the mayor and town treasurer arrested, took 4,000 marks in loot, and told his soldiers to stand guard at the city hall and watch as the prisoners high-tailed it. He was arrested ten days later, and became so beloved by the anti-militaristic section of the German population that he was set for life after spending less than two years in jail.


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24 Comments

    • steve kerensky on

      One “Anastasia” was shorter than the original, the other went on about vodka parties when the Romanovs only drank champagne.
      But what about Lenin? He tricked the electorate with the offer of “Peace” but his aim was to start a civil war in Russia (23m dead) then launch a `suicidal` attack on Germany – which collapsed in Poland.

    • We already have that freedom in all situations. I lie is not any less of a lie because of our ability to not believe it.

    • I always thought the ‘believe it or not’ was more or less urban legends that were unknown whether they were true or not. Not necessarily intentional lying (I do see your point, since the phrase ‘believe it or not’ is still giving implication it might not be true and that changes it considerably).

  1. Kim Jong Il said that he was a god, that he was the fastest man on the planet and that he had a perfect game of golf and he did not make the list!!!

    I’m sure others can think of more 🙂

  2. Raoul Wallenberg lies saved thousands of lives and he paid for this with his own life. I would say he is a better liar (from all points of view) then a man who lied to steal money

    • Blimey, I`d forgot about Obama.. “I`ll shut Guantanomo Bay..” “I`ll punish the guys who did waterboarding..” And my personal favourite, “Colonel Gaddafi (Obama`s old mate) has rape gangs.” Then again, there`s George Bush Senior. “Saddam Hussein had babies ripped out of incubators,” and George W Bush and Tony Blair. “Saddam Hussein has Weapons of Mass Destruction and is allies with Osama Bin Laden.” “Saddam Hussein has Weapons of Mass Destruction which can hit the UK in 45 minutes. We`re 45 minutes away from doom.” Why people lie like this, I`ll never know..

  3. Hieronymus Carl Friedrich von Münchhausen
    Why he is not on the list?
    Did you hear about medical term “Syndroma Münchhausen”!?

  4. I am flattered to be among the Top Ten Liars. But doesn’t General Bush really take the cake? (Albeit conspicuous by his absence from the list) His troops invaded Iraq to destroy Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, and they couldn’t even find Waldo! Then again, Daddy Bush said “read my lips.” We all did and all we got was a whiff of butt odor. BTW I do play the drums (Radio City Music Hall Orchestra in 1978) but the photo posted is that of the OTHER Alan Abel. We look alike, talk alike, walk alike and play alike. So, whoever is in charge of this web site, please select a photo from my website (http://www.alanabel.com). Thanks again for the honor. I think.

    • Thank you for visiting, of course, you may be lying about who you are but we will take a leap of faith here. Sorry about the incorrect photo. I am using a photo from your site, but please let us know if you prefer another one.

    • steve kerensky on

      Oh Mike! It isn`t for Obama. Do you really want to deprive poor people of health care? Is this how mean wealthy Americans have become? Shame on you.

  5. steve kerensky on

    Lenin was a five-star liar. He offered peace, but what he meant was that he was gong to start a civil war in Russia and then launched “suicidal” attack on Germany.
    He offered land but that was to be taken from the peasants and given to the commissars. Russian agriculture has not yet recovered from this “collectivization”.
    He denied he had ever received subsidies from the Germans but German records (with hundreds of telegrams, backed by remarks made in Ludendorff`s memoirs) show he was given 86 million gold marks.

  6. No such list like this compiled in this century should exist without Obama & Hillary not be on it for said list to be afforded full credibility!

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