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September 11, 2006 | by  | in Books |
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Hippo Eats Dwarf: a field guide to hoaxes and other bullshit

The title of this book comes from a news story that’s been forwarded endlessly around the world via email, and ultimately been printed several times in reputable newspapers. The story concerns a circus stunt gone wrong, and is plainly absurd but just credible enough to stay alive. It’s complete bollocks of course. And that’s the subject of Boese’s little book, those urban legends and Photoshop hoaxes that fill the inboxes of the gullible.

The Internet is, of course, the greatest hoaxing tool of our time, and possibly all time. People still have an inexplicable tendency to believe things they’ve been sent or seen. Boese follows myths such as the infamous “Bonsai kitten” back to their sources, revealing not hideously cruel pettorturers but pranksters out to sell a few Tshirts. The “Bill Gates” chain email, claiming that Microsoft will give you a thousand dollars for passing it on? That was written by Iowa State University student Bryan Mack in November 1997 and sent to a friend on the other side of the room.

If you think that sounds like a diverting but lightweight premise for a book, you’re exactly right. Boese pads out this central theme with various examples of the modern world’s general vapidity, the sort of things that sound like hoaxes but aren’t. These include reality TV shows with ludicrous premises, the outrageous lies of reporters and the true story of Michael Jackson’s nose.

I read Hippo Eats Dwarf in one half-hour sitting, which is a good reflection of both its entertainment value and intellectual depth. It does have one very good recurring motif though: don’t believe anything you read on the Internet (or in Salient). You can visit Alex Boese’s extensive website at www.museumofhoaxes.com.

By Alex Boese
Penguin

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