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

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Staff Reviews

Kevin Young’s official website lists him as a poet, essayist, professor, editor, and Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library. To be up-to-date we need the option of New Yorker poetry editor, a post he began in November. 

A Topeka native, Young’s passion for writing came at the age of 13.  I don’t think he’s wasted a moment of his life, having written 11 books of poetry, edited eight collections of writings, and written two extensive works of nonfiction.  

His latest book, Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News,investigates deceit in 200 years of American culture and how untruths become the fabric of our lives. Young teaches us the difference between the humbug of P.T. Barnum and the unrepentant lies of our president and Clark Rockefeller. He illustrates how as Americans our gullibility is rooted in our suspicious and stereotypical assumptions. Finally, he exposes our smugness when the lie is outed… we are as quick to an I-told-you so as we were to the hunger for the so-called truth.   

Young entertains with his erudition and solid facts, his original thinking and impeccable narrative writing skills.  

Marlon James notes that with this “unexpectedly essential” volume, “Kevin Young is giving us [a] book we greatly need, cleverly disguised as a book we merely want,” emphasizing that to look at the world without facts is to look at the roots of our own self deceptions that are based on racism, classism, and our own inability to stand up for the truth.

Sarah's review first appeared on 89.1 KMUW. You can listen to it HERE

— Sarah Bagby


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.

About the Author

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.

Coverage from NPR

Product Details
ISBN: 9781555977917
ISBN-10: 155597791X
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication Date: November 14th, 2017
Pages: 480
Language: English