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Alex Boese Interview continued

Hoax expert and the author of Museum of Hoaxes, Alex Boese, talks about some of his favorite books...

Not surprisingly, a lot of Alex Boese’s favorite novels dealt with themes like the nature of reality.

These included the novels of science fiction authors Philip K. Dick and J.G. Ballard.

Other favorites included Moby Dick by Herman Melville; ; Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller; the works of sociologist Erving Goffman, particularly The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life and Stigma; and the works of Joseph Gusfield who developed an approach to understanding the problem of contested meanings.

Also I asked Alex Boese for his favorite books on hoaxes.

ALEX BOESE: Hoaxes by Curtis MacDougall.

It’s still the classic work in the field, though it only goes up to the 1950s.

The Encyclopedia of Hoaxes by Gordon Stein. A great reference work.

If At All Possible Involve a Cow by Neil Steinberg.

A hilarious account of pranks and hoaxes on college campuses.

Princess Caraboo: Her True Story by John Wells.

This is just a really fun account of one individual hoax… Princess Caraboo, a lower-class English girl who fooled the British upper class into believing that she was a foreign princess back in 1817.

RV: How do people get fooled by hoaxes in this day and age?

AB: There are a number of different reasons.

The first reason is that the hoaxers can often be pretty clever, and they deliberately exploit the grey areas of our knowledge.

Another reason (and I’m being charitable towards people here) is that we live in a society that’s very open to new claims.

As a consequence of this open-mindedness, we’re inevitably going to often be confronted by false claims.

In other words, hoaxes are part of the price that we pay for living in an open, democratic society.

The other side of this same coin is that we’ve come to have extravagant expectations about the world because we’re actually addicted to news and novelty.

Over the past 200 years the media has been feeding us stories day in and day out, and so we’ve come to expect that remarkable new stuff is occurring all the time.

Remarkable stuff is happening all the time, but most of it isn’t new or particularly newsworthy.

But every day we pick up the paper and expect to be fed interesting news, so this creates an environment in which people can easily start inventing interesting news claims that aren’t actually true, and they’re easily accepted at first because we’re so accustomed to novelty.
Finally, there’s a point about human nature.

People tend to believe things that they want to be true.

For instance, we all want to be rich, so we believe people when they tell us that they can make us rich.

This observation unfortunately holds just as true for very educated people as it does for uneducated people.

Alex Boese’s website is at www.museumofhoaxes.com.

Museum of Hoaxes by Alex Boese, 304pp, is published by Dutton/ Plume.