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.
...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.
...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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.