Boese, the "curator" of www.museumofhoaxes.com, 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. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
An amusing compilation of deceptions dating from the Middle Ages to the aftermath of September 11, morphed into print from a Web site initially created to store the author’s thesis research. Boese, a grad student at UC San Diego, defines a hoax as a "deliberately deceptive act that has succeeded in capturing the attention (and, ideally, the imagination) of the public." Included under this broad heading are the Jackalope, a species of antlered rabbit able to mimic human voices; a South African crop circle made by extraterrestrials that featured the BMW logo; and Snowball, the 87-pound kitten whose size was due to its mother having been callously abandoned near a nuclear lab. Actually, Snowball wasn’t intended as a hoax; the cat’s owner manipulated the photo and sent a few friends the image, which eventually made its way around the world with an accompanying narrative. (Boese similarly stretches his own definition to include Orson Welles’s radio broadcast The War of the Worlds, even though the program wasn’t meant to trick listeners.) The author believes that while folks have always been gullible, the form and function of hoaxes change over time. For example, during the 1990s, people began to feel anxious about how technology and the Internet were affecting their daily lives. This anxiety fueled the success of a 1994 hoax in PC Computing magazine, which published an article "reporting" that Congress would soon make it illegal to drive drunk on "the information highway." When a 1998 Internet posting by a New Mexico physicist claimed that the Alabama legislature had voted to change the mathematical value of pi from 3.14159 . . . to "the Biblical value" of 3.0, a bewildered legislature wasswamped with calls from angry citizens. Despite its origin as thesis material, the work is not meant to be academic, and there is no analysis of any kind. All dissertations should be this much fun. (35 photos and illustrations)