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A History of Ambition in 50 Hoaxes

May 2019

Territory Rights — Worldwide excluding Canada.

Gale Eaton (Author)

Series edited by Phillip Hoose


What do the Trojan Horse, Piltdown Man, Keely Motor Company, and Ponzi Scheme have in common? They were all famous hoaxes, carefully designed and bolstered with false evidence.

The con artists in this book pursued a variety of ambitions—making money, winning wars, mocking authority, finding fame, trading an ordinary life for a glamorous one—but they all chose the lowest, fastest road to get there.   Every hoax is a curtain, and behind it is a deceiver operating levers and smoke machines to make us see what is not there and miss what is. As P.T. Barnum knew, you can short-circuit critical thinking in any century by telling people what they want to hear. Most scams operate on a personal scale, but some have shaped the balance of world power, inspired explorers to sail uncharted seas, derailed scientific progress, or caused terrible massacres. A HISTORY OF AMBITION IN 50 HOAXES guides us through a rogue’s gallery of hustlers, liars, swindlers, imposters, scammers, pretenders, and cheats. In Gale Eaton’s wide-ranging synthesis, the history of deception is a colorful tour, with surprising insights behind every curtain.  

Fountas & Pinnell Level Z+


"This highly entertaining and unusual book takes a fresh and sophisticated approach to world history. Brief but informative sections detail hoaxes and unsolved mysteries from ancient times to the present, and from the familiar (the Trojan Horse) to the more obscure (the 1971 discovery of alleged Stone Age tribe the Tasaday). A fascinating read for high schoolers and adults. Extensive source notes are appended. Glos., ind. Subjects: General and World History; Swindlers and swindling; Hoaxes; Behavior—Truthfulness and falsehood" — Horn Book

"The hoaxes here are colorful by far. Eaton doesn't sensationalize them; the stories [are] allowed to speak for themselves, and they display great grip. 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." — Kirkus

"In a broad-ranging and fascinating study of artifice, Eaton raises intriguing questions about human instincts, especially the ones to deceive and believe. Simultaneously available: A History of Travel in 50 Vehicles. Ages 12–up." — Publishers Weekly

Also By: Gale Eaton View all by author...

Also By: Phillip Hoose View all by author...



175 x 251 mm • 288 pages


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