One crisp Berlin morning, in 1906, a small group of soldiers were led on an extraordinary heist by a man they believed to be a captain. So how did an ageing nobody in a fake uniform trick them into taking part in the crime of the century? Some say we humans will obey orders from anyone who dresses the part… but the real reason why we fall for tricksters time and again is far more interesting. Fraudsters and charlatans reel us in slowly by using psychology against us.
Featuring: Alan Cumming, Russell Tovey, Rufus Wright, Melanie Gutteridge and Ed Gaughan.
Producers: Ryan Dilley and Marilyn Rust. Sound design/mix/musical composition: Pascal Wyse. Fact checking: Joseph Fridman. Editor: Julia Barton. Recording: Wardour Studios, London. GSI Studios, New York. PR: Christine Ragasa.
Thanks to the team at Pushkin Industries, Heather Fain, Mia Lobel, Carly Migliori, Jacob Weisberg, and of course, the mighty Malcolm Gladwell.
The best English-language account I could find of the Kopenick story is by Benjamin Carter Hett. “The ‘Captain of Köpenick’ and the Transformation of German Criminal Justice, 1891-1914,” Central European History 36 (1), 2003.
I first read about the story in Nigel Blundell’s The World’s Greatest Mistakes. Other accounts are at Strange History and The Rags of Time. Koepenickia offers various contemporary German newspaper accounts. There are many small differences in the accounts but the overall story remains just as remarkable.
An overview of the evidence on tall presidents is Gert Stulp, Abraham P. Buunk, Simon Verhulst, Thomas V. Pollet, “Tall claims? Sense and nonsense about the importance of height of US presidents” The Leadership Quarterly Volume 24, Issue 1, 2013.
The study of gubernatorial elections is Daniel J Benjamin & Jesse M Shapiro, 2009. “Thin-Slice Forecasts of Gubernatorial Elections” The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(3), pages 523-536, 02.
Daniel Hamermesh’s Beauty Pays looks at the overall evidence that appearances matter – including in politics.