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Summary

A darkly comic inquiry into how to fake your own death, the disappearance industry, and the lengths to which people will go to be reborn.

Is it still possible to fake your own death in the 21st century? With six figures of student loan debt, Elizabeth Greenwood is tempted to find out.

So she sets off on a 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...only to find it filled with rocks.

Greenwood tracks down a 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 (yes, he's alive - or so some would have her believe); talks to people contemplating pseudocide; and gathers intel on black market morgues in the Philippines, where she may or may not succeed in obtaining some fraudulent goodies of her own. 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 you'll be caught. (Disappearing while hiking, however, is a great way to go.)

Playing Dead is an utterly fascinating and charmingly bizarre investigation into our all-too-human desire to escape from the lives we lead and the men and women desperate enough to lose their identities - and their families - to begin again.

©2016 Elizabeth Greenwood (P)2016 Simon & Schuster

Critic reviews

"Ms. Greenwood takes us on a romp through the world of the living dead - not zombies, but real folk who 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, New York Times best-selling author of Dead Wake)
"Exuberant and ironic, witty and compassionate, various and keenly-focused, Playing Dead is eccentric investigative journalism. A terrific subject, where the deadly (excuse the pun) serious and absurdly comic meet and mesh." (Margo Jefferson, author of Negroland)
"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)

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  • Overall
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 12-08-16

Some flat spots, but overall fantastic.

I'm quite intrigued by the subject, so this book pricked my interest. It turns out that faking your own death is very difficult to execute and get away with without getting caught and serving jail time.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Flore
  • 04-12-16

Listened to it twice!

I loved Ms. Greenwood's inquiry into the world of death fraud. Her perspective was personally-relevant and thought-provoking.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Karen W. Lam
  • 30-06-18

Information is great, but the book isn't

There's so much great information in this book - the world of death fraud is endlessly fascinating. Unfortunately, the author's wrap around story is uncompelling (if not out and out irritating), and the writing style feels as well written as a blog. If it weren't in audiobook format, I would have skimmed the first few chapters where the most interesting information is presented and skipped over big chunks of the filler.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • F. Macgregor
  • 20-06-18

Naive and romantic view of death

What I liked about this book (on Audible): The narrator was very good. The book also looks at the issue from all viewpoints, the people who fake death; those who get caught; the people left behind; and the people who help the fraudsters. It was an interesting look at a subject I had never heard of before.

What I didn't like about this book: The author is a little too naive. She finds the whole idea of faking your own death romantic and actually begins the book by contemplating faking her dead to get out of student debt, because she owes in the 6 figures. I am a former law student. I don't know anyone who doesn't have the kind of debt. You learn to live with it and get on with your life. Throughout the story she seems both surprised and disappointed that her original romantic ideas of death fraud were too childish and fantastic to be what she thought, like meeting her childhood hero and finding he couldn't fly in real life. The book is also more about her growing up finally (at 31 years old), and realizing regular life is good enough, than death fraud. There is way too much of the author in the narrative for my taste.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Buretto
  • 15-06-18

Neither one thing nor the other

I'm not sure what I expected buying this audiobook, and getting it at the 80% off sale, I naively thought, what's there to lose?

This is a flimsy book. It's not in-depth enough to be truly informative, nor is the author comedically adept enough to make it a jaunty flight of fancy. There are a few anecdotes about pseudo-cide and interviews with experts who debunk commonly held myths about faking one's death. If the book stopped there, we'd be left with a mildly interesting, but very short, pamphlet about the phenomenon. But an inordinate amount of time is spent humoring a Michael Jackson fake death conspiracist. An hour or so of filler to make the book seem a bit more substantial. That chapter is seventy minutes, but it seemed interminable. Then a few chapters of purple prose bemoaning the suffering of the friends and family, and tedious philosophizing about life, debt and death, which had led the author to pursuing the project in the first place. Okay, I blew 4 or 5 bucks on a disappointing book, but hey, so it goes.

The only redeeming thing about this book, is that the author didn't read it herself. The introduction was read by her, and it was at least a welcome relief to have a professional, adult voice to read the body of the book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 29-04-18

Very enjoyable!

Liz Greenwoods narrative is honest, open and thoroughly enjoyable! it's a light-hearted book on a more serious topic. I would recommend!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Directionline
  • 28-01-18

enjoyed it fully

gear work. super interesting. top narrator. when it ended, I wanted to hear more. looking forward to more books from the author.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • r w mueller
  • 22-11-16

playing dead

easy listen, enjoyable story of various people and their experience at attempting to disappear. not a how to book, light on any actual ideas and steps which can be used to vanish. a story of a young woman fresh out of college and saddled with a huge student loan debt. her only escape is daydreaming about faking her death and beginning anew. enjoy just don't expect too much.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Naima Anne Haviland
  • 30-09-16

Loved it

playing Dead is written well. it's clever, funny, surprising, entertaining, and insightful. Elizabeth Greenwood one day had an idea to escape her massive student loan debt: she could fake her own death! this epiphany started a five-year journey into the phenomenon of death fraud. she researched all angles, interviewing people who investigate death fraud, make a living helping people disappear, fake their deaths, or who mourn the loved ones they believe have died. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about this quirky subject, written by someone with a great talent for storytelling.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • MoMo
  • 12-08-18

A meandering story with no core tenant

This is basically two books - what motivates people to disappear (or fake their death) & specialists who help them along the way. And then the other part of the book are long profiles of people who have faked their death. Many of the profiles are too drawn out and get very boring.

This book never clicked for me. The 90 minutes had some interesting tidbits (like faking your death is not illegal, but the things you do leading up to it or after (like insurance fraud) are illegal).

I would avoid.