The Land That Never Was

Genre: Nonfiction; Author: David Sinclair

In hindsight, his name should’ve been a tip-off. Double-talking con man Sir Gregor MacGregor breezed into 1820s London society with tall tales of heroism during the fight for South American independence. He also claimed to be a descendant of Scottish hero Rob Roy (possibly true) and the ruler of an exotic Central American land called Poyais (preposterously false). In tantalizing brochures, he described a tropical paradise, rich in soil and gold, with colonnaded buildings and even an opera house. Soon, Brits of all classes were handing over their savings to emigrate. They arrived to find swampland and the scores of irate and diseased suckers who had come before them. Sinclair ably turns MacGregor’s hoax into a sinister marvel. But he never gets to MacGregor’s core, settling for mere hints that his con was about more than money.

Originally posted January 9 2004 — 12:00 AM EST

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