Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Duke of Deception” as Want to Read:
The Duke of Deception
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Duke of Deception

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  885 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews
Duke Wolff was a flawless specimen of the American clubman—a product of Yale and the OSS, a one-time fighter pilot turned aviation engineer. Duke Wolff was a failure who flunked out of a series of undistinguished schools, was passed up for military service, and supported himself with desperately improvised scams, exploiting employers, wives, and, finally, his own son.

In Th
Paperback, 304 pages
Published February 19th 1990 by Vintage (first published 1979)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Cindy Knoke
Oct 26, 2012 Cindy Knoke rated it it was amazing
The four best memoirs I have ever read, and I have read too many, are Frank McCort’s, Angela’s Ashes, “Tobias Wolff’s, “This Boy’s Life,” Geoffrey Wolff’s, “The Duke of Deception,” and Jeanette Walls, “The Glass Castle.”

These books are similar in describing horrendous childhood’s of upheaval and instability, complicated by mentally ill, vagabond, eccentric parents, and a sort of lower middle class poverty. (I know that’s an oxymoron, read the books and you’ll understand). But the similarities go
Matt Dietrich
Mar 20, 2008 Matt Dietrich rated it it was amazing
When their parents divorced, brothers Geoffrey and Tobias Wolff each went with one parent -- Tobias with their mother (famously portrayed in the book and movie "This Boy's Life") and older brother Geoffrey with their father. More people know Tobias' story; lesser known is the odyssey Geoffrey describes in living with their father. Turns out the college degrees and family pedigree of which Dad was so proud were all lies. In fact, as the title indicates, just about everything in his life is a lie. ...more
Apr 06, 2011 Kevin rated it it was amazing
While his brother Toby's memoir was emotional and moving, his older brother remains intellectually distant and mordantly ironic, even angier than Toby, yet it shed s an empathetic light on Toby's problems. What I like was that Goeffrey allows the reader to gradually realize that he was becoming the dopopleganger of his father but finally matures, admits this, and changes his life for the better. Although sometimes disconnectedly cerebral, Geoffrey does deliver the emotional climax at the tragic ...more
Jan 15, 2012 Laura rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction
I had to read this for my advanced nonfiction writing class, and it was extremely difficult to read through and find something positive. So instead, I’ve resorted to the analytical in hopes that it can enlighten future readers of the content.

Geoffrey Wolff entangles the reader in a long, arduous explanation for why he is thankful his father died. As a reader, I felt the memoir was too long, too detailed with explanations, and I found myself focusing on mental and behavioral issues Duke and Geoff
Steve Fox
Jul 06, 2013 Steve Fox rated it it was amazing
I read his brother's memoir first, which I give 5 stars to too, but Geoffrey's memoir is about their father, whom he lived with. Tobias wrote about having to live with their off-kilter mom and her boyfriends and his cold stepfather. Quite an exposé of a dad who turned out to be a Great Imposter.
This book -- often beautiful in its prose, often unpleasant in its subject matter -- troubles me. It provided a unique counterpoint: it includes a new perspective on one of my favorite memoirs, the author's brother Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life (1989). One of the best elements of that book was its willingness not to moralize, to trust that we readers would see the irony develop, understand the unreliable characters' unreliability, and internalize a healthy judgment of the immorality we were obs ...more
David Schaafsma
I am reading or re-reading a lot of father-son books I have had on my shelf for a long time, in part because I am working on a father-son project of my own. But my relationship with my father was good; why is it I keep reading these sad/tragic stories of compulsive liar fathers by their damaged kids? Mary Karr's The Liars Club, Laurie Sandell's The Imposter Syndrome, Paul Auster's The Invention of Solitude, so many others, and just recently, This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff (one of my favorite wr ...more
David Clark
Nov 14, 2013 David Clark rated it it was amazing
Authors Tobias and Geoffrey Wolff might be an argument for the presence in the human genome of a great writing gene. Following a tempestuous marriage and divorce, these two biologic brothers were raised separately. Tobias Wolff Tobias, the younger and perhaps more famous writer, (A Boys Life, In Pharaoh s Army, The Barracks Thief) was parented by his mother Rosemary while Geoffrey became the responsibility of his father, the Duke. Geoffrey Wolff was a long-time book reviewer for The Washington P ...more
Kelly Daniels
May 26, 2015 Kelly Daniels rated it liked it
An interesting companion to Wolff's brother Tobias's This Boy's Life; it's also worth reading in its own right. I found myself comparing the two books. Geoffrey's is deeper, smarter probably, and Tobias's is a more engaging, more conventional story. The main difference is that one likes Tobias as a person and narrator, while its harder to like Geoffrey. The latter comes off as a jerk, though we forgive him in some measure. He's both spoiled and neglected by his parents, and so we understand, but ...more
Jan 21, 2016 Laina rated it it was ok
Maybe I have been spoiled by novel-like memoirs, as this memoir just didn't grab me. Although the writing was good, I found it a bit dull. It also seemed a bit repetitious: Father is a loser, son is becoming a loser, father continues to be a loser. Son asks father, 'Dad, are we Jewish?' Father answers no. Names of famous people are dropped. Everyone gets drunk and skips out on their bills. (I remain amazed that they avoided jail for as long as they did.)

I had no sympathy for either the father o
David Legault
Jan 08, 2010 David Legault rated it liked it

It was all right, but another memoir I was obligated to read for class, another memoir that illustrates the problems of the genre.

He relied too much on research, particularly "proof" for his anecdotes, that took me out of the story.

Also, not exactly sure hos to articulate this problem, but by about halfway through the book it was clear it was one of those books where the narrator was going to go out of his way to include sex stories (how is you losing your virginity relevant to a memoir abo
Apr 23, 2013 Rani rated it liked it
Duke Wolff is a character who improvises his background and his life to meet his ends. He leaves in his background a trail of unpaid debts, angry landlords, relatives and friends.

The story is told from the point of view of his older son, Geoffrey. After Duke and his wife separate, Geoffrey lives with Duke and is estranged from his mother and his younger brother, Toby. Toby interestingly has also written a book about his life.
Bill Ibelle
Sep 01, 2014 Bill Ibelle rated it it was amazing
Fascinating memoir of growing up with a con-artist father, written by the brother Tobias Wolfe, the author of This Boy's Life and several five start books of short stories. When their parents divorced, Geoffrey went with the con-artist father and Tobias with the flighty mother. This Boy's Life memoir of growing up with the mother. Read them both. Quite a story.
Oct 25, 2014 Lindsey rated it liked it
The writing was sharp and tight, with a strong voice and good humor, but the narrative really began dragging after the halfway mark and never picked back up for me. I'm not really a fan of dysfunction memoirs though....
Raymond Wong
Jan 09, 2016 Raymond Wong rated it it was amazing
In this memoir, Geoffrey Wolff, writes an unflinchingly honest portrayal of growing up with his father, a man who goes through life duping people into extending him credit in order to bask in a state of temporary luxury, only to have it all come tumbling down like a house of cards, because it’s never enough. Once the bills come due and the repossessions begin, the “Duke” can only haul himself and his family out of town in pursuit of the next target of deception.

Wolff describes his grandfather, a
Lori Johnstone
May 04, 2016 Lori Johnstone rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
Oh how I love memoirs, but I especially loved this one.

This was a fantastic book. It was particularly interesting to me, as the author's brother Toby, fiction writer and memoirist as well, I read first. Tobias actually wrote his memoir after Geoffrey, and his book, 'This Boy's Life' was adapted into a movie. It was fascinating since the brothers, who weren't close in age, were raised one by their mother, and one by their father in various places in the United States. Each one of them, lead the
Richard Gilbert
Apr 30, 2016 Richard Gilbert rated it liked it
A portrait of his father as a lifelong slacker and con artist. He was by definition a criminal, albeit a petty one, and seems the definition of a sociopath. I imagine this memoir had a heavy "gee whiz" effect when issued, because Duke Wolff associated with the upper class and conned his way into jobs he was unqualified for, such as an aircraft engineer. He was a man of paradoxes, largely a loving father who gave good advice he himself never followed.

Geoffrey shows himself narrowly escaping his
Herta Feely
Jul 09, 2016 Herta Feely rated it it was amazing
This is one of my all-time favorite memoirs. Loved it more than Tobias Wolff's -- Geoffrey's brother. The two were separated during childhood when their parents divorced. Geoffrey went with his father, the "duke of deception," and Tobias with his mother, suffering numerous of her boyfriends. Something about the writing of Geoffrey Wolff's was so elegant and compelling. I "totally got" his situation, and sympathized. Each chapter of the book unfolded neatly, scenes and characters so well describe ...more
Luanne Castle
Dec 11, 2014 Luanne Castle rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
Read his brother's memoir first: This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff. Then read Geoffrey’s book.

In this memoir, the reader learns about the extreme personality and antics of their con man father. The book is intellectual and "good storytelling" at the same time.

The only off note is that Geoffrey’s tone is a bit elitist; he seems the sort of person who is very well educated and doesn’t let others forget it. In this respect, he reflects their father’s influence on his own personality. In fact, it is u
Oct 09, 2007 Emily rated it it was amazing
In this memoir, Geoffrey Wolff, former Washington Post editor and brother of Tobias Wolff, describes growing up with his father. Named Duke by his college friends because of his fascination with old money, social status, and finer things, the senior Wolff managed to con and cheat his way through multiple jobs and credit hassles and kept his family on the move to escape detection. Two things stand out about this story: first, although Wolff Sr. was a dishonest character, he managed to convey, mos ...more
Feb 28, 2007 zan rated it really liked it
Shelves: fathers, family, memoir
Stephen Dubner mentioned this book on the Freakonomics blog as one of his favorite father-son stories. He mentioned Geoffrey is the brother of Tobias, who sits on my favorite authors list (only 2 authors long). I had Books Inc specially order it for me, since it doesn’t seem to be for sale anywhere.

Fantastic! I read This Boys’ Life a number of years ago. For those that don’t know, Toby and Geoff are about 10 years apart and each was raised by one parent after the parents divorced. Each book is p
Peggy Parsons
May 28, 2010 Peggy Parsons rated it really liked it
Shelves: biographies
A scam artist's roller coaster ride from riches to poverty to riches to poverty and how his actions affects his family, told by his son. Two lines in the story sum up The Duke: "There was nothing to him but lies and love." "No one could set him free, of prison or himself."

Starts with a distant, removed feel as the son recounts his father's early years. Thus earning 4 stars and not 5. But the son's passion and pain and inner conflict rings loud later in story.

(Read after seeing the movie, This B
Jan 07, 2016 Karen rated it liked it
This book was written by Geoffrey Wolff, brother of the noted author Tobias Wolff. It therefore gives you another spin on their childhoods. They are brothers, but hardly raised in the same family. Both are raised in sometime poverty, both with many, many childhood moves, but one was raised primarily by his mother and the other by his father. Tobias' memoir "This Boy's Life" is quite well known, while "The Duke of Deception" by Geoffrey is not. While "The Duke of Deception" can stand alone on its ...more
Patrick Ross
Aug 10, 2013 Patrick Ross rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
I enjoyed this book, but it's worth noting that it's kind of like three books in one. The first part is essentially a biography of his parents, in particular his father (the Duke of Deception). That's fairly interesting. It picks up significantly in the second section, his childhood. The third part, where he is a young adult and has tired of his father's antics, moves slowly, without a sense of the narrator's growth and with a level of bitterness that isn't particularly compelling. That's why I ...more
Aug 09, 2016 Peter rated it really liked it
The Duke of Deception was Geoffrey Wolff's father, described by the author in this biography/memoir as a good dad but a bad man. When the Wolff family split, Geoffrey stayed with his father while his brother Tobias moved west with their mother. "Duke of Deception" is an obvious pairing with "This Boy's Life," Tobias's memoir that tells the parallel and equally interesting story from the perspective of the other half of the family. If you read only one I recommend "This Boy's Life." It's more bea ...more
Jul 02, 2011 Eileen rated it liked it
After reading "Toby's" story, wanted to read Jeff's. One went with Mother to have a brutal stepfather, the other stays with dad who is a con man. Both parents dearly love the child??
I was astounded when Dad started charging every thing to his son after son worked so hard to repay the debt he had accumulated when dad led him to think things would be paid for. Good for Geoff that he was able to resist the lure of dad to go back into the life after Geoff found another way to live (honestly?)
Jul 25, 2016 Kate rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir, biography
Another bad father, dysfunctional parenting childhood memoir (think Glass Castle) but this time it is a son doing the telling. Geoffreyʻs father is a superb con man and a thief with substance abuse issues, yet still there is fondness and some measure of loyalty and affection. We grow up in spite of these challenges. I found this a little slow but thought provoking raising the usual questions around nature and nurture, good dad/bad dad. It was good to find a father/son relationship to look at.
Jul 29, 2007 Jrobertus rated it liked it
Many readers are aware of the brilliant writing of Tobias Wolff, and his harrowing memoir of life with his mother and step father. They may not be aware that when that family split, Tobias's brother Jeffrey lived with the boys natural father. His story is told in The Duke of Deception, which is also very interesting and well written. The father was a gambler and con man, and their life on the run was very colorful, if unstable.
Lisa Lewis
Aug 20, 2016 Lisa Lewis rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir
Not sure how I ended up with this one on my "to read" list... and less sure of why I actually read the whole thing. Stubbornness, I guess. I did not love this book, although I will acknowledge that Wolff writes well. This memoir left me cold - I really couldn't connect with Wolff and his world of rich white men (or poor white men pretending to be rich), in which his father's being Jewish was as big an embarrassment as him being in and out of jail.
Liz Kranz
Jan 16, 2014 Liz Kranz rated it it was amazing
When I picked this up at the book store, I didn't realize that Geoffrey Wolff was Tobias Wolff's brother. It was fun having read Tobias Wolff's memoir to read this one, which gave me further insight into Tobias's story. I enjoyed the fast-paced, eloquent writing style of this book, which early on felt more like a biography of Geoffrey Wolff's father than a memoir, but later on came together as biography and memoir. This memoir is a tribute to the healing power of love and honesty.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • My Dateless Diary: An American Journey
  • Talking in Bed
  • In the Land of No Right Angles
  • Pages from a Cold Island
  • A New History of India
  • The Spiritual Tourist: A Personal Odyssey Through the Outer Reaches of Belief
  • Feasting the Heart: Fifty-Two Commentaries for the Air
  • In Pharaoh's Army: Memories of the Lost War
  • World Within World: The Autobiography of Stephen Spender (Modern Library)
  • The Headmaster: Frank L. Boyden of Deerfield
  • Little Wilson and Big God: The First Part of the Confession
  • Daily Strength for Daily Needs
  • The Accidental Buddhist: Mindfulness, Enlightenment, and Sitting Still, American Style
  • Stop-Time
  • I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory
  • Country Girl
  • Fierce Attachments: A Memoir
  • Ride With Me, Mariah Montana

Share This Book

“answered the phone: “My” 0 likes
“John said: “Your father is dead.” And I said: “Thank God.” John” 0 likes
More quotes…