Kevin Young’s brilliant expose, Bunk, shows that con-artists and tricksters have been with us as long as the United States has been around. I enjoyed the stories about P. T. Barnum and his clever shenanigans. Young describes dozens of different con games and hoaxes played with variations over the years. I enjoyed his chapter on Clifford Irving’s hoax about his book about Howard Hughes. And then there’s Bernie Madoff who ripped off billions of dollars from his trusting investors. Kevin Young’s meticulously researched material on the plagiarists and phonies and spin doctors presents the patterns of deception we’re contending with today. I found the stories fascinating and informative. If you’re interested in how we got into such a mess with Fake News and Alternative Facts, Hunk lays it all out in detail. GRADE: A
ONE The American Museum On the madness of crowds,
CHAPTER 1 The Age of Imposture, 7
CHAPTER 2 The Freaks of Dame Fortune, 17
CHAPTER 3 Splitfoot, 45
CHAPTER 4 Bearded Ladies, 63
TWO Neverland On race & other popular delusions,
CHAPTER 5 Cowboys & Aliens, 95
CHAPTER 6 Blood Nation, 117
CHAPTER 7 Lost Boys, 139
CHAPTER 8 The Time Machine, 161
THREE Mysteria A sideshow,
CHAPTER 9 The Heart Is Deceitful, 189
CHAPTER 10 Eve Black, 211
FOUR The Vampire’s Mirror Of imposture, forgery & monsters,
CHAPTER 11 Butterfly Books, 233
CHAPTER 12 Spruce Goose, 253
CHAPTER 13 Bakelite, 271
CHAPTER 14 The Vampire’s Wife, 285
FIVE Hack Heaven Of the journalist & the liar,
CHAPTER 15 Glass Ceilings, 305
CHAPTER 16 The Gingerbread Man, 327
CHAPTER 17 In Bad Blood, 243
CHAPTER 18 Burning Down, 359
SIX Unoriginal Sin On plagiary, murder, bad poetry & other crimes,
CHAPTER 19 Blacker than Thou, 381
CHAPTER 20 Professor Plum, 391
CHAPTER 21 Ghostbusters, 397
CHAPTER 22 Michael Brown’s Body, 411
CODA The Age of Euphemism,
Acknowledgments, 449
Notes, 451
Annotated Bibliography, 509
Illustration Credits, 535
Index, 539


  1. Deb

    I love books like this—so onto the tbr list it goes. Of course, I read these books in the hopes that I’ll be too “aware” to get conned…and then I give money to the next guy at the gas station who approaches me with a hard-luck story!

    I read a number of books about Madoff. The one by Diana Henriques is the best and most comprehensive; but the one written by Madoff’s daughter-in-law (whose husband, one of Madoff’s sons, committed suicide in the wake of the scandal) shows how much wreckage Madoff caused everywhere.

    I strongly recommend the underrated film, HOAX, with Richard Gere in a great performance as Clifford Irving, to get a sense of the way the Howard Hughes autobiography con spiraled out of his contract.

    And then there’s the conman we elected President, but we cannot face that right now….

    1. george Post author

      Deb, BUNK shows the progression from P.T. Barnum to Trump. Like you, I read books like BUNK to inoculate myself against the scams and schemes that show up on my computer every day. You’ll enjoy BUNK!

  2. Jeff Meyerson

    Sounds like the perfect book for Our Time. You read stuff like this and think, how can anyone be stupid enough to fall for some of these? An older guy comes to your door and tells you he’s a doctor and giving free door-to-door breast exams. A woman offers to give you a magic “shot” for a cheap butt lift, in an apartment down the street.

    We think we’re more hip to cons these days, but in many ways we live in a very credulous age.

    1. george Post author

      Jeff, as BUNK shows in chapter after chapter, we have a history of “falling for it” whether it comes from Bernie Madoff’s investment Ponzi schemes or P. T. Barnum’s Bearded Lady. Today’s phishing scams and identity theft cons are increasing.

  3. wolf

    It’s a crazy world, we have similar things in Europe too. I sometimes get asked about US soldiers who have fallen in love with some European woman – just a little financial problem that has to be solved, then they’ll come over from Afganistan to visit …

    And financial cons are so common too.

    Re fake news:
    Of course I look at snopes.com regularly and we have something similar in Austria (in German of course) and often I wonder about the people who believe these “constipation theories” as I call them.

    Seems with the rising quantity of information the quality goes down, down …

    1. george Post author

      Wolf, BUNK concentrates on U.S. history, but there have been con games going on internationally, too. The computer and Internet has just added fuel to the fire!

  4. Dan

    I spent an hour on-line the other night trying to talk my sister-in-law out of paying to have “free money” delivered, only to discover it wasn’t her — someone had hacked her facebook account and was trying to talk ME into the scam!

  5. Jeff Meyerson

    I had a “friend” desperately ask me to send him money as he was stuck in England and his passport and money were stolen.

    Needless to say, he was hacked. I let him know what was going on. Of course there is also the “grandma” scam, where seniors are targeted with bogus calls from someone claiming to be their grandchild, desperately needing money.

    We also get frequent phony “WARNING” messages that one or another account was supposedly hacked and we need to click on their helpful link and change our passwords. A lot of people fall for these scams. What amuses me, I must admit, is when our Wells Fargo account is hacked, since we have never had a Wells Fargo account. Do your research, boys!

    Jackie has also had several “free cruise” things. All she has to do is give them her Social Security number.

  6. George Kelley

    Jeff, same here. Plenty of scams and phishing schemes assault us daily. We’ve had our credit cards hacked twice. The first time whoever stole our numbers bought two First Class tickets to Thailand. Cost: $3500. The second time our credit cards were hacked, they bought fireworks and PlayStations. Fortunately, VISA covered the losses so we weren’t affected monetarily. But it was a hassle waiting to get new credit cards.

  7. Jeff Meyerson

    Sounds familiar. We were in New Orleans and Jackie got a call that someone had our card number. The bizarre thing was, they used it to order a bunch of little things, most of them under $10 each, and had them sent to us! But they also signed us up for book and CD and wine of the month and cigar clubs, which were a real hassle to get rid of. First we had to wait to see what showed up, then get rid of them.

    The other time was an American Express card we were advised to discontinue but NOT cancel. Suddenly it was used (clearly by an American Express employee) for restaurants in Manhattan costing $2,000. They launched an investigation but I don’t know if they found the person.

    And every time this happens, you have to wait for the new card and then change any continuing payments you have using that card (like Amazon or whatever). Annoying, even if it didn’t cost us money in the end.

  8. Rick Robinson

    George, if you’re getting all those spam emails every day, you need a better filtering program. I get a phishing try about once every 2-3 weeks, but of course they go to spam and then I delete them w/o any clicking.

    I wouldn’t have wanted to spend the time this would have taken to read. I’d rather do something I enjoy. By the way, going for new glasses this morning, now that my cataract surgeries are three weeks past. Yay.

    1. wolf

      Rick, congratulations on your surgeries! My wife will probably have one eye done in February.

      Re these spam mails I agree with you – my provider (Deutesche Telekom) has become very efficient, less than one spam a day reaches my inbox. And it’ssometimes from a bank where I don’t have an acount even …
      But these scammers and spammers alwaysfind new ideas.
      Right now a whole gang from Eastern Europe which used the “grandchild trick” in hundreds or maybe thousands of cases is on trial in Germany.

    2. george Post author

      Rick, both my College email account and my personal email accounts get spam. The spammers find ways around the filters. Hope your new glasses give you better vision. Our cataract surgeries are years in our futures.

      1. Rick Robinson

        My distance vision is now 20-20, so I will only need reading glasses. I’m shopping for “half eyes” tomorrow. The difference after the surgery is amazing. Not something to be put off, once your optometrist says it’s time.

  9. Jeff Meyerson

    When I don’t recognize the phone number I don’t answer the phone. They can leave a message if they want to talk to me.

    They never do.

  10. Deb

    A friend of a friend met a guy on Match.com. They hit it off (well, online), until she suggested they meet up for coffee at the local Starbucks. They set three dates—he never showed. He kept having “emergencies” and couldn’t make it. Finally, he said his grandmother was sick and he had to go to Dubai (?) to see her. Whose grandmother lives in Dubai? A couple of days later here comes the begging email: I got mugged in Dubai; could you wire me some money? Woman immediately blocked him and reported the scam to Match. Another friend was not so lucky—she got fleeced big time by a guy she met on Plenty o’ Fish.

    1. george Post author

      Deb, my young niece met a guy on a dating web site. Same story: they would make plans to meet but he always had a last second “emergency.” Finally, after months of this runaround the guy finally admitted he was married…and a grandfather!

      1. wolf

        These scams go in both directions. A Hungarian friend of my wife was devastated when her ex-husband (who’s Austrin and around as old as I) told her proudly (!) that he was in contact now with a beautiful black woman in the USA (around 30 years old, so 40 years younger than him …) who loved him so much!
        Can you imagine that? BTw he’s neither rich nor good looking nor intelligent …

        He sent her money for her flight and waited at the Budapest airport for her – of course in vain. When he got her email that she couldn’t come because her mother was sick and she needed money for the doc he at least realised that something was wrong.
        And then he tried to renew the association with his ex-wife even!

  11. Cap'n Bob

    I like books of this kind but, like Rick, I don’t have time for it! We never answer the house phone and sometimes we get scammers! I like to mess with them by repeating Hello, Hello over and over!

    1. wolf

      Scammers etc on the phone:

      We often get these calls in Hungary at lunch time, then my wife hands me the phone and I say “Ich verstehe nichts” 🙂
      That’s the end usually, sometimes they even say “I’m sorry” – probably besides Hungarian they only know a bit of English.


Leave a Reply to Jeff Meyerson Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *