Good Minds Suggest: Kevin Young's Favorite Literary Hoaxes

Posted by Goodreads on November 1, 2017
Kevin Young

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Kevin Young is the poetry editor of The New Yorker. He's also an editor, essayist, and curator. His ten books of poetry include last year's Blue Laws: Selected & Uncollected Poems 1995-2015.

Now he's back with his second work of nonfiction, Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News, which has been longlisted for the National Book Award. In Bunk, Young guides readers through a rogue's gallery of hoaxers, plagiarists, forgers, and fakers—from the humbug of P.T. Barnum and Edgar Allan Poe to the unrepentant antics that make today's headlines. His book traces the history of the hoax as a peculiarly American phenomenon, examining what motivates hucksters and makes the rest of us so gullible. Young finds that fakery is woven from stereotype and suspicion, with race being the most insidious American hoax of all.

"Betrayal, bull, and belief: All these are in play with the hoax. Once exposed, hoaxes tell us not just about why we deceive, but why we believe," says Young. "These are some books that helped me think about whether there are more hoaxes these days (hint: there are!) on my way to understanding why."

The Showman and the Slave by Benjamin Reiss
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"Critic and scholar Ben Reiss tells the fascinating story of Joice Heth, P.T. Barnum's first successful humbug—a black woman who Barnum claimed was George Washington's nursemaid, which would have made her 161 years old. Reiss manages to get at the riotous, if dubious, origins of American fakery and showmanship."


The Ern Malley Affair by Michael Heyward
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"One of the last century's most famous hoaxes, Ern Malley was a pretend poet some have said manages to be Australia's best. This account is one of the best hoax studies around, tracing Malley's creation, the resulting obscenity trial over the admittedly fake poems, and the continued impact of Malley as a cultural force worldwide."


The Man Who Made Vermeers by Jonathan Lopez
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"A well-told, fascinating story about famous forger Han van Meegeren, the Dutchman who Lopez convincingly argues wasn't merely a harmless prankster in the 1920s and 1930s, but a Nazi sympathizer not worthy of our sympathy. Remarkably lively."


Hard News by Seth Mnookin
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"In this contemporary classic of hubris and willed denial, former reporter Seth Mnookin tells the story of how and why hoaxer Jayson Blair was able to fake any number of front-page stories for The New York Times. It's especially brilliant on why the culture at the paper that had won its much-deserved Pulitzers for its 9/11 coverage also helped create the need for the kind of scoops that Blair promised."


Schroder: A Novel by Amity Gaige
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"Impostor and convicted murderer Clark Rockefeller has spawned not only biographies, biopics, and accounts by those who once knew him, like Walter Kirn, but also this fascinating novel. By getting into the head of the ultimate unreliable narrator, Gaige conjures an American story of reinvention that manages to convey—if not sympathy for, then insight into—a hoaxer's mind-set."



Want more book recommendations from authors? Check out our Good Minds Suggest series.



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message 1: by Daniel (new)

Daniel I've always enjoyed the works of Alex Boese (whether book or website). His stuff is always well researched, detailed, and fun. It will be interesting to compare this.


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