Young is a fine poet and his often recursive, textured prose is the perfect delivery for the cyclical nature of literary lies ... Bunk is teeming with these types of insights. As a poet and historian, Young has the particular skill of seeing the unseen. He understands that at the heart of every lie is a good, perhaps great, story. Often the act of story is the act of persuasion, hypnosis, delusion. For better or worse, we love to be lied to if the song sounds good ... Bunk contains a laundry list of charlatans, including Rachel Dolezal, Stephen Glass, James Frey, and Laura Albert. But what is most powerful is Young’s examination of American lies about race ... Young might just have written the most important book this year. Sadly, his book suggests that we might make the same statement for 2018—and the next year, and the next.
...enthralling and essential new study of our collective American love affair with pernicious and intractable moonshine ... Bunk is a sort of book that comes along rarely: the encompassing survey of some vast realm of human activity, encyclopedic but also unapologetically subjective ...a panorama, a rumination and a polemic at once, asks more of the reader. It delivers riches in return ...represents instead a deliberate and even violent confrontation with our determination to locate a susceptibility to bunk elsewhere, whether in the deplorable past or merely in the deplorable other ...his tone at times eccentric or amused...a reader’s feast, a shaggy, generous tome with a slim volume of devastating aphorisms lurking inside; it also shimmers with moments of brief personal testimony, glimpses of Young’s life as a poet, a family man and a black Ivy Leaguer.
...while it can be tempting sometimes to see hoaxes as more or less victimless crimes (certainly Barnum thought they were), Young’s litany instead makes clear that there’s far more at stake here ... But it is not just a history of hoaxes Young is after; Bunk also offers a tour of the 'hoaxing of history': how the hoax threatens to overwrite actual history in favor of its pablum and nonsense ... long, overstuffed with anecdote and argument, a stylistic counterpoint to his spare, minimalist poetry. Its 477 some pages (plus another hundred of notes and sources) may seem daunting to some readers, but it’s a wild, incisive, exhilarating tour through Western culture’s sideshows and dark corners. Like a sideshow barker, Young writes with unbridled enthusiasm, a showman’s conviction, and a carny’s canny, telling a story that at times defies belief.
Kevin Young’s rich history of fakery could not, in fact, be more urgent: This is a moment of deeply earned anxiety about the fate of truth itself, one in which science and fact and empiricism are threatened by the same choose-your-own-reality impulses that have been presaged by the forces Young outlines in his subtitle ...deep in its research, profound in its insights, and lyrical in its prose ...Bunk offers nearly 500 pages’ worth of folly to explore — the book is even more compelling as an argument: that hoaxes, so tangled with stereotype and systemic lies, are inextricable from race, 'a fake thing pretending to be real.'
The number and range of his examples are both impressive but sometimes difficult to follow ... Another shortcoming involves the way Young tries to make one word, 'hoax,' carry more weight than it can comfortably bear ... Young’s study does touch on Trump (about 10 pages, plus three on Melania Trump plagiarizing Michelle Obama), although the president gets far less treatment than the subtitle might suggest (or than many readers might want) ... Bunk provides some insights into why we’re too often plagued these days by torchlight processions of blind bigotry that defy explanation.
...if Kevin Young’s Bunk had simply been a chronicle of hoaxes over the years, it would have been gripping reading in its own right. But Young goes much deeper, examining the reasons why large groups of people are drawn to certain varieties of bunk, and what that says about our society ... His work encompasses a comprehensive amount of information, and he’s equally comfortable focusing on particular figures or creative works as he is examining much broader trends ... equal parts enlightening and unnerving.
Despite its many merits, including a terrific annotated bibliography, Bunk may strike some readers as overlong and somewhat ramshackle. While usually clear and journalistic, Young’s prose constantly shifts registers, sometimes veering into cultural theorizing, at other times opting for sassily hip street talk. This tonal restlessness certainly adds a variety and richness to the book, but also reinforces the impression that Young can’t stop talking and can’t bring himself to leave anything out. Still, excess hardly matters when there’s so much to enjoy and learn from in this encyclopedic anatomy of American imposture and chicanery.
His copious research, his talents in literary analysis and his associative skills as a poet are on acrobatic display as he argues convincingly that the hoax is all too often an underrecognized mechanism for maintaining white — and to a concurrent extent, male — supremacy ... Admittedly, hoaxes are a shaggy subject, yet one wishes that Young’s book were a bit more trim, as he turns and returns to subjects across chapters in a nonlinear and at times perplexing and repetitive fashion ... As we enter the second year of the Trump administration — with its railing against 'fake news,' its failure to unilaterally condemn white supremacists in Charlottesville and its assertion that climate change is itself a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese — this book could scarcely be more timely or useful.
...Young demonstrates how time and again Americans are fooled and schooled ...describes the process as a kind of call-and-response that coaxes into being 'beliefs the hoaxers themselves may not have been aware of.' Often these beliefs involve race and difference...vivid storytelling... To read such a persuasive and exhaustive examination of the history and ubiquity of the hoax can leave you questioning anything that purports to be real — this is one of fakery’s most insidious consequences ...finishes on a sobering note, acknowledging his wish to conclude his tour more cheerfully — that he could claim that we’d survived this long era of bullshit to come out the truer and wiser.
...an encyclopedic, fascinating and frustrating new book ... This pairing of race and bunk is immediately and instinctively convincing. But Young has a knotted, clotted style, as if making notes for himself rather than others, testing out phrases, not quite bothering to write clearly or cleanly. He loves academic punning and jargon, and will often choose alliteration or puns over sense. And he can be aphoristic to the point of meaninglessness ... Young, surely unintentionally, has a habit of saying things that sound great but mean little. These erode trust, build frustration, and ultimately feel like gentle cons or hoaxes of their own; phrases onto which we can project whatever meaning we like ... In reviewing books, we measure them against what they try to do — which means criticizing an impressive accomplishment like Bunk because it doesn't live up to its extraordinary ambitions.
Thick and information-laden as the internet cacophony, Young’s book proves a worthy and exhaustingly researched read ...what Bunk makes very clear is that a hoax doesn’t get by on gullibility so much as suck on our societal marrow, subsuming grief, hubris and race. These pathologies are what afflict Young’s subject — especially in the hoax-scape wherein all three meet ...Young makes clear that hoaxes throughout history have race at their core ...Bunk reveals it [our society's fake news] can be navigated only through careful reason, patience and a refusal to die blind.
Young’s encyclopedic study of cons is so exhaustive that it will undoubtedly be the definitive book on hoaxes and fraud. He looks at more than sixty splendid, sad, and often hilarious case studies of American fakery, and they all have at their core one simple fact about human psychology: Just as we all too often tend to lie—while telling ourselves how honest we are—we similarly love to be duped ... Young, who is a poet by trade, tells his stories beautifully. There are more delightful synonyms for deception here than you will find in any book I’ve read ... His readings are impressive not only because he moves so fluidly among apparently incongruous subjects (Lance Armstrong, Jay Gatsby, Jayson Blair, Avatar), but also because he brings such limber insight to every con he takes on ... If I was ever frustrated with Young’s brilliant and definitive account, it was because in almost every case his argument follows the same pattern: Racists easily believe false claims that confirm racist views. This argument is no doubt true, and Young demonstrates it repeatedly, but occasionally I did wish that he would reflect more pointedly on the other reasons we fall for frauds.
...Young pulls back history’s curtain to reveal hoaxes, humbug and circus tents with a sideshow of spiritualism and sensationalism ... Shifting effortlessly from the 19th century to the 21st, Young draws connections between words like swindler, diddling and confidence man and contemporary buzzwords like plagiarism, truthiness and fake news ... More than simply recounting these incidents and dozens more, Young uses them to facilitate his larger goal: a theory of the hoax itself and the fantasies that it reveals ...examines the effects of deception on American politics, literature and everyday life ...a powerful, far-reaching read.
We live in the age of the hoax. Believe me. And if you don’t believe me, believe Kevin Young, author of the sometimes disturbing but always fascinating new book Bunk … Young takes a sweeping, erudite look at the long and astounding history of his subject in American culture — positing that faking it might indeed be an essential part of that culture … The very idea of race is bunk, Young points out … Given Young’s meticulous research and transparent sources, it must have pained him to write, ‘What Trump really heralds is a time when there are no more experts.’
Young presents a rogue’s gallery, including Grey Owl, Bernie Madoff, and Lance Armstrong, paying particular attention to the especially heinous frauds of journalists, including Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair. Young closes with an examination of today’s constant bombardment of intertwined facts and factoids and the need for each of us to try to suss out the truth. Compelling and eye-opening.
By turns brilliant and frustrating, Bunk is nevertheless that rare thing, a trove of fresh and persuasive insights. When a poet turns to history, the expectation is often that the scholarship will be light, perhaps even superficial, but the prose will be gorgeous. Bunk, in the first of its many surprises, reverses that formula. Young indulges in a style that tends to obscure his sophisticated arguments, but the book is impeccably, even superhumanly erudite ... If I take issue with Young’s style in Bunk, it’s because the book’s pleasures are often squandered when he opts for a folksy bantering voice that values wordplay over precision ... Bunk is at its sharpest when scrutinizing lying journalists, offenders who particularly irk Young because they provide the first draft of a history whose truth must be held sacred ... [an] occasionally aggravating but more often enlightening book.
Young astutely declares the hoax a frequent metaphor for a 'deep-seated cultural wish' that confirms prejudicial ideas and stereotypes. 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.