Hoaxes are a lot of fun, tell us much about ourselves, and sometimes, just sometimes, change the course of history.
As part of the History in 50 Series, which seeks to present history through thematically linked, chronological stories about people and events, Eaton links hoaxes to ambition. To do this so intimately may be stretching the point, but the meat of the stories here lies in revealing what peopled believed and how they tested its truth (or didn’t). History is best told through stories, the more chromatic the better. The hoaxes here—and some lie outside that definition, including the Trojan Horse, the travels of Marco Polo, and the nature of the Voynich manuscript—are colorful by far. Eaton doesn’t sensationalize them; the melodrama has been mellowed and the stories allowed to speak for themselves, and they display great grip. Some instances should spark further investigation—the Potemkin villages, art forgers by the name of Michelangelo and van Meegeren—and more than a handful of the 50 ought to be new to readers, including scientific high jinks and the Walam Olum (which purported to tell 3,600 years of Leni-Lenape history). There is a hoax for every mood: cheat, propaganda, assault, cruelty, inventions of merit, a more nuanced appreciation of art, and marvel.
We have met the hoaxsters, and they are us: family stories, human progress, and often enough the pinball nature of our history. (Nonfiction. 10-16)