One-Minute Book Reviews

January 10, 2008

Alex Boese Lifts the Curtain on Popular Ruses in ‘The Museum of Hoaxes’

A writer who calls himself a “hoaxpert” says that flamboyant pranks and deceptions allow people to “carve out a small niche of personal control” in an age of oppressive bureaucracy

By Janice Harayda

Why do people try to hoodwink others with tales of Bigfoot, crop circles or bloggers who don’t exist?

Hoaxes allow their perpetrators “to carve out a small niche of personal control in a world otherwise regulated by massive, impersonal bureaucracies,” Alex Boese says in The Museum of Hoaxes: A History of Outrageous Pranks and Deceptions (Plume, 266 pp., $12, paperback). So the rise of the Internet has led not just to a new wave of deceptions intended to embarrass corporate giants like Microsoft and eBay but to a second life for some old standbys of chicanery.

As an antidote, Boese offers a collection of hundreds of literary sound bites, each of which explores an aspect of the origins of a well-known hoax and tries to set the record straight. In his section on the Loch Ness Monster, he focuses on a famous photo that appears to show the slender neck of a beast rising from a lake but in fact depicts a toy submarine outfitted with a sea serpent’s head. He doesn’t mention that a paleontologist might have guessed as much, because no fossil evidence exists to support the presence of Nessie, either.

Boese keeps tabs on new ruses or rumors of them on his site, which he says gets a million page views per month. And since the first publication of The Museum of Hoaxes in 2002, he’s written Hippo Eats Dwarf (Harvest, 278 pp., $14, paperback), which looks at other kinds of chicanery, including Nigerian bank scams and posts by fictitious bloggers.

One-Minute Book Reviews is a site for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation. 

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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