Bunk: Book summary and reviews of Bunk by Kevin Young

Bunk

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

by Kevin Young

Bunk by Kevin Young X
Bunk by Kevin Young

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Book Summary

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

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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. While the book suffers a bit from its glut of examples, 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 the drier material." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. This dense and wide-ranging critique offers a fascinating view of the impact of fraud on truth. American studies scholars and readers interested in contemporary culture will appreciate it." - Library Journal

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

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Kevin Young is the author of a previous book of nonfiction, The Grey Album, and eleven books of poetry, including Blue 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.

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