Book Review: Hoax: Hitler's Diaries, Lincoln's Assassins, and Other Famous Frauds


by Edward Steers, Jr

Lexington:University Press of Kentucky, 2013. Pp. xii, 236. Illus., notes., index. $24.95. ISBN: 0813141591

In this very readable book, Lincoln scholar Steers takes on six famous hoaxes, three of which are of particular historical importance, various frauds concerning Lincoln’s assassination, inventions about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the so-called Hitler diaries, while the remaining three deal the question of authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, the ‘”Anthon Transcript” hoax relating to Mormonism, and Piltdown Man.

Steers’ look at the Lincoln assassination gives us a pretty good notion of his methodology.  Some “eye witnesses” accounts concerning the various incidents cited by conspiracy theorists comes from people who can be show to have not actually been present at the events to which their testimony applies fabrications.   The “cases” made by people claiming to have seen the “missing” pages from John Wilkes Booth’s pocket diary and notebook fall apart because their evidence comes neatly typed (a technology dating to the mid-1870s), with no originals or photocopies provided, and different "extracts" often contradict  each other, with entries having Booth in places or meeting people on dates when there is adequate evidence to prove otherwise.  Then too, much “evidence” is based on overlooking the dates of documents, letters, telegrams, or conversations or by cherry-picking their contents. 

This methodology applies equally to the several Pearl Harbor conspiracy theories Steers address.  For the Hitler diaries hoax, Steers not only points out flaws in the methodology used to authenticate the bogus documents, but also manages to trace the fate of Hitler’s actual papers.  A similar approache is used for the “Anthon Transcript” hoax.  While Steers marshals considerable scientific evidence that the Shroud of Turin is not what it purports to be (a conclusion reached by some churchmen nearly seven centuries ago), it still remains a curious mystery.  Of the cases, only Piltdown Man is without some degree of lingering controversy, having the least political or popular importance.

Hoax is a valuable read for anyone dealing with the problem of fabricated evidence.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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