From The New Yorker staff writer and Harvard historian Jill Lepore, the dark, spellbinding tale of her restless search for the long-lost longest book ever written, a century-old manuscript called The Oral History of Our Time.
Joe Gould, a madman, believed he was the most brilliant historian of the 20th century. So did some of his friends, a group of modernist writers and artists that included E. E. Cummings, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, John Dos Passos, and Ezra Pound. Gould began his life's work before the First World War, announcing that he intended to write down nearly everything anyone ever said to him. "I am trying to preserve as much detail as I can about the normal life of everyday people," he explained, because "as a rule, history does not deal with such small fry."
By 1942, when The New Yorker published a profile of Gould written by the reporter Joseph Mitchell, Gould's manuscript had grown to more than nine million words. But when Gould died in 1957 in a mental hospital, the manuscript was nowhere to be found. Then, in 1964, in "Joe Gould's Secret", a second profile, Mitchell claimed that The Oral History of Our Time had been, all along, merely a figment of Gould's imagination. Lepore, unpersuaded, decided to find out.
Joe Gould's Teeth is a Poe-like tale of detection, madness, and invention. Digging through archives all over the country, Lepore unearthed evidence that The Oral History of Our Time did in fact once exist. Relying on letters, scraps, and Gould's own diaries and notebooks - including volumes of his lost manuscript - Lepore argues that Joe Gould's real secret had to do with sex and the color line, with modernists' relationship to the Harlem Renaissance, and, above all, with Gould's terrifying obsession with the African American sculptor Augusta Savage. In ways that even Gould himself could not have imagined, what Gould wrote down really is a history of our time: unsettling and ferocious.
"A well-aimed hand grenade of a book, fiercely concentrated in its precision and unflinching in its revelations. Best-selling Lepore's exciting approach to hidden and scandalous historical stories is drawing an enthusiastic, ever-growing readership that will be well primed for this thoughtful exposé." (Booklist)
"Like a detective, Lepore describes her mazelike quest, her clues, her dead ends, the many people she met and talked to, the dusty archives visited in a wonderful, sprightly prose lusciously filled with allusions and references.... Borges' great short story about the fictional writer Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote, comes to mind. Lepore is Borges to Gould's Quixote, which was his life writ large...maybe. A fascinating, sharply written, thoroughly engaging jeu d'esprit." (Kirkus Reviews)
"Engaging.... This book will delight readers interested in the people's history of literary modernism." (Library Journal)
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