13 May 2008

Deception & Detection

I know it's been weeks since I announced a new book of mine — so, lest I be accused of slacking, here's information on my latest.

It's called Deception and Detection in Eighteenth-Century Britain, and it has just appeared from Ashgate Publishing. It can be had from Amazon.com.

The book is described in the publisher's blurb:

In the first extended treatment of the debates surrounding public deception in eighteenth-century Britain, Jack Lynch contends that forgery, fakery, and fraud make explicit the usually unspoken grounds on which Britons made sense of their world. Confrontations with inauthenticity, in other words, bring tacitly understood conceptions of reality to the surface.

Drawing on a wide range of contemporary print and manuscript sources — not only books and pamphlets, but ballads, comic prints, legal proceedings, letters, and diaries — Lynch focuses on the debates they provoked, rather than the forgers themselves. He offers a comprehensive treatment of the criticism surrounding fraud in most of the noteworthy controversies of the long eighteenth century. To this end, his study is structured around topics related to the arguments over deception in Britain, whether they concerned George Psalmanazar's Formosan hoax at the beginning of the eighteenth century or William Henry Ireland's Shakespearean imposture at the end. Beginning with the question of what constitutes deception and ending with an illuminating chapter on what was at stake in these debates for eighteenth-century British thinkers, Lynch's accessibly written study takes the reader through the means — whether simple, sophisticated, or tortuously argued — by which partisans on both sides struggled to define which of the apparent contradictions were sufficient to disqualify a claim to authenticity. Fakery, Lynch persuasively argues, transports us to the heart of eighteenth-century notions of the value of evidence, of the mechanisms of perception and memory, of the relationship between art and life, of historicism, and of human motivation.

(For those who don't know how these things work, this blurb is the result of several back-and-forth exchanges between me and the publisher's marketing folks. I try to describe the project modestly; they drop in adjectives and adverbs they think will help sales.)

This book took a terribly long time to write: it has been the center of my attention since I finished my Ph.D. in 1998. The biggest frustration, I discovered, was figuring out how to organize all the material I collected. My first thought was to devote a chapter to each case study: a chapter on Psalmanazar, a chapter on Macpherson, a chapter on Chatterton, and so on. As I began writing the book, though, I discovered that chapter one had all the interesting material in it; chapter two read, more or less, "Remember all that stuff in chapter one? — it applies here, too." Chapter three then read, "Chapters one and two: ditto." And so on. To complicate matters, some case studies were big and complicated, requiring a huge amount of space; others deserved only a few paragraphs. The organization just wasn't working.

After much noggin-scratchin', I ended up with a more topical arrangement, which allows me to consider some stories from multiple points of view. The first chapter is about what "fake" means in an eighteenth-century British context; chapter two looks at the role of satire and sarcasm in attacking forgeries; chapter three is on changing notions of evidence; chapter four on internal consistency; chapter five on external consistency; chapter six on anachronism and historicist criticism; chapter seven on ways to get around the problems of imperfect memory; chapter eight on the need to understand the motivation behind deception; and chapter nine on why the detection of fakes was such an urgent task in eighteenth-century Britain.

And how much would you pay for a book like this? — three hundred dollars? — four hundred dollars? — well, it can be yours for just eighty-nine ninety-five! That's right, eighty-nine ninety-five! Buy before midnight tonight, and we'll throw in a set of steak knives, absolutely free.


richard said...

Ashgate publishes wonderful books, Jack, yours included, but ugh, the pricing just stinks. I saw a couple of nice Ashgate volumes recently at my university bookstore for $139 and $149 respectively, and there's no level of commitment that makes me likely to buy these rather than get 'em from the library - unless and until I find myself in a recall war with someone.

Which has happened before, and will happen again.

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It is a interesting topic, deception is practically a part of every human in this planet, we are never going to evolve as long we deceive and lie.

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