THE MUSEUM OF HOAXES: A Collection of Pranks, Stunts, Deceptions, and Other Wonderful Stories Contrived for the Public from the Middle Ages to the New Millennium

Alex Boese, Author . Dutton $19.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-525-94678-6

Boese, the "curator" of, here collects some of the more fascinating hoaxes from medieval times to the dot-com era. After an initial "gullibility test," designed to show how hard it can be to detect actual hoaxes, Boese organizes his entries chronologically, arguing that hoaxing styles and subjects reflect an era's overall mood. Thus, in pre-modern times, the "concept of truth" was treated "allegorically and spiritually," so hoaxes (such as Sir John Mandeville's fantastical beasts) were not as scientifically involved as our modern frauds (Rorvik's 1978 cloning of a man or the 1999 Piltdown Chicken). Happily, Boese minimizes his theorizing, letting readers just have fun browsing through a few centuries of human trickery. While most of these hoaxes are entertaining (England's Mary Toft, who in 1726 "began to give birth to rabbits" or the South Seas fatu-liva bird that laid square eggs "which remarkably resembled dice"), a handful are disturbing (the 1987 Tawana Brawley case, involving an unsubstantiated act of racial hatred) or even deadly (e.g., the case of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, which was used to justify anti-Semitism). While short accounts of a variety of hoaxes won't satisfy aficionados, the general public may find it useful to know how some familiar hoaxes—e.g., the Loch Ness monster—were unmasked, and Boese's "suggested reading" list will help intrigued readers dig deeper. Photos and illus. (On sale Nov. 11)

Forecast:The enticing jacket, readable layout with lots of curious photos, reasonable cover price and entertaining topic should make for good sales.

Reviewed on: 09/30/2002
Release date: 11/01/2002
Hardcover - 273 pages - 978-0-7528-6426-6
Paperback - 266 pages - 978-0-452-28465-4
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