Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News

Category: Book
By (author): Young, Kevin
Subject:  HISTORY / United States / 20th Century
  LITERARY CRITICISM / American / African American
  SOCIAL SCIENCE / Ethnic Studies / African American Studies
Audience: general/trade
Publisher: Graywolf
Published: November 2017
Format: Book-hardcover
Pages: 480
Size: 9.33in x 6.38in x 1.64in
Our Price:
$ 42.00
Available: 3-10 days

Additional Notes

From The Publisher*

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

Award-winning poet and critic Kevin Young tours us 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 bunk of JT LeRoy and Donald J. Trump.Bunk traces the history of the hoax as a peculiarly American phenomenon, examining what motivates hucksters and makes the rest of us so gullible. Disturbingly, Young finds that fakery is woven from stereotype and suspicion, 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 journalistic fakers invent backstories and falsehoods to sell us lies about themselves and about the world in our own time, from 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. In this brilliant and timely work, Young asks what it means to live in a post-factual world of "truthiness" where everything is up for interpretation and everyone is subject to a pervasive cynicism that damages our ideas of reality, fact, and art.

Review Quote*

"Riveting. . . . Young covers, and uncovers, America's long and varied history of deceptive practices."-Elle

"[A] thorough examination of two centuries of hoaxing. . . . Original and illuminating."-BBC Culture

"[A] profoundly erudite new study of the ways truthiness, as Stephen Colbert used to call it, travels through America's fabric."-Literary Hub

"[Kevin Young is] second to none in his ability to make unlikely pop cultural connections and bring in a vast and complex sense of history."-Vol. 1 Brooklyn

"As exhaustive as its subtitle: part survey of modern imposture, part detective story about the origins of American fakery. . . . It's an important book for 2017, not only because ‘fake news' is a part of the zeitgeist, but because public discourse about white supremacy and political hucksterism suffers from citizens' short memory. . . .Bunk is a consistently incisive look at the nature of American imposture and epistemology itself: How do we know what we know, how do we learn? How do we undo what we learn, and how do we avoid making the same mistakes?"-Harvard Magazine

"Young chronicles a distinctly American brand of deception in this history of hoaxers, fabricators, liars, and imposters. . . . [He] astutely declares the hoax a frequent metaphor for a ‘deep-seated cultural wish' that confirms prejudicial ideas and stereotypes. . . . Young's remarks on race and his comparison of Trump and Barnum, both of whom gained power from spectacle, in the book's coda are well worth sifting through."-Publishers Weekly, 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. . . . Compelling and eye-opening."-Booklist, starred review

"Fake news and alternative facts have a long and complex history in American culture. Young, an award-winning poet and director of the New York Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, explores the deep roots of hoaxing in entertainment, literature, journalism, sports, and public life. . . . The final chapter touches on the current ‘post-fact' world and its rejection of expertise, raising important questions about how we can know the truth. This dense and wide-ranging critique offers a fascinating view of the impact of fraud on truth."-Library Journal, starred review

"A fascinating, well-researched look at the many ways Americans hoodwink each other, often about race."-Kirkus Reviews

Biographical NoteKevin Young is the author of a previous book of nonfiction,The Grey Album, and eleven books of poetry, includingBlue Laws, which was long-listed for the National Book Award. He is the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.