Bunk : the rise of hoaxes, humbug, plagiarists, phonies, post-facts, and fake news

by Young, Kevin, 1970-

Format: Print Book [2017]
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Longlisted for the National Book Award for Nonfiction

"There Kevin Young goes again, giving us books we greatly need, cleverly disguised as books we merely want. Unexpectedly essential." --Marlon James

Has the hoax now moved from the sideshow to take the center stage of American culture?

The award-winning poet and critic Kevin Young traces the history of the hoax as a peculiarly American phenomenon--the legacy of P. T. Barnum's "humbug" culminating with the currency of Donald J. Trump's "fake news." Disturbingly, Young finds that fakery is woven from stereotype and suspicion, with race being the most insidious American hoax of all. He chronicles how Barnum came to fame by displaying figures like Joice Heth, a black woman whom he pretended was the 161-year-old nursemaid to George Washington, and "What Is It?," an African American man Barnum professed was a newly discovered missing link in evolution.

Bunk then turns to the hoaxing of history and the ways that forgers, plagiarists, and frauds invent backstories and falsehoods to sell us lies about themselves and about the world in our own time, from the pretend Native Americans Grey Owl and Nasdijj to the deadly imposture of Clark Rockefeller, from the made-up memoirs of James Frey to the identity theft of Rachel Dolezal. This brilliant and timely work asks what it means to live in a post-factual world of "truthiness" where everything isup for interpretation and everyone is subject to a contagious cynicism that damages our ideas of reality, fact, and art.

Published Reviews
Booklist Review: "*Starred Review* As we adjust to life with a president who plays fast and loose with the truth and whose backstory arouses growing skepticism, this examination of the long and colorful history of hoaxes and cons is most welcome. Well before the Internet helped fuel and spread half-truths and outright deceptions, people have perpetrated frauds in various forms. Award-winning poet, scholar, and writer Young (Blue Laws: Selected and Uncollected Poems, 1995-2015, 2016) examines the American roots of fraud and its particular ties to racial anxieties, from P. T. Barnum's display of Joice Heth, the alleged 161-year-old nursemaid to George Washington; to Susan Smith's tale of a black man kidnapping and killing her children; to Rachel Dolezal's masquerade as a black woman. Young traces the history of freak shows, séances, spirit photography, fake memoirs, and reality TV, exploring the motives of hoaxers (fame, greed, thrill) and the anxieties of each era that led to believers' gullibility. Young presents a rogue's gallery, including Grey Owl, Bernie Madoff, and Lance Armstrong, paying particular attention to the especially heinous frauds of journalists, including Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair. Young closes with an examination of today's constant bombardment of intertwined facts and factoids and the need for each of us to try to suss out the truth. Compelling and eye-opening.--Bush, Vanessa Copyright 2017 Booklist"
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review: "Actor and audiobook veteran Willis demonstrates a large capacity for vocal nuance in his reading of Young's history of fraud and fakery in American history. The early chapters cover dense historical topics that may be esoteric to a general audience, but Willis renders the material as approachable as possible. As the book's focus shifts to more recent instances of fraud, journalistic fabrications, and outright lies by public figures, Young's overall thesis-that hoaxes often reflect an agenda to manipulate or hijack larger conversations about such issues as race, class, and gender-becomes easier to follow. The highlight of Willis's performance is his projection of Young's indignation at Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who posed as African-American and became a civil rights organizer. This is a satisfying audiobook that hooks listeners in the latter half. A Graywolf hardcover. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."

Additional Information
Subjects Truth.
Hoaxes -- History.
Deception -- History.
Publisher Minneapolis, Minnesota :[2017]
Language English
Description 560 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Bibliography Notes Includes bibliographical references (pages 509-533) and index.
ISBN 9781555978167 (trade paperback)
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