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The Sun and the Moon by Matthew Goodman

The Sun and the Moon (2008)

by Matthew Goodman

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I was about halfway through before they started talking about the moon hoax and I realized with about 100 pages left that they were done talking about the moon hoax. So, with the 300 pages of the book, about 50 was about the hoax. To be fair, I figured that might happen fairly early on and it still read well enough that I never considered abandoning it. Though I could have done with less about Edgar Allen Poe. I was neither surprised to learn he was a twat nor interested in learning more about what a twat he was.

Honestly, it's a book about The Sun (the newspaper) and Richard Locke (the journalist that wrote the hoax for The Sun) in the times leading up to the hoax and also following it and the ups and downs of business and professional rivalry and how pissed people were about abolitionists for not shutting up and also Edgar Allen Poe being a twat and PT Barnum being a twat some of the time to certain people.

There you go. ( )
  fundevogel | Jan 8, 2017 |
Which actually has the wonderful full title of "The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York"

This is the second Matthew Goodman book I've read, having read his Nellie Bly book before I could get hold of this one. And I don't know what to make of it, or even if I liked it. Actually I think I quite liked it, but it isn't exactly what it says on the jar - I was expecting something entirely focussed on the Moon Hoax as published in the Sun Newspaper (hence the title), but instead it's also a biography of the newspaper industry in 1830's New York, including several famous editors and other luminaries. Which kind of makes sense, because such a thing as a multi-day hoax as a feature in a newspaper really makes sense in the time and place given, and the reactions of the other papers are quite germane. But it's also a biography of P.T. Barnum, who wasn't actually connected other than being another inveterate huckster of the time, of Edgar Allan Poe, who also wasn't actually connected other than he was upset because he thought it plagiarised a story of his. And Joice Heth, one of Barnum's early exploits in humbuggery. And Richard Adam Locke, who actually did write the Moon story as it came to be known. And Sir John Herschel, who wasn't involved either, although the Moon story was attributed to him.

There's a LOT of competing biographies going on in here, and while they are all fascinating people, Goodman has a tendency to jump around timeline-wise, and to repeat himself a little. So we hear about Joice Heth not actually being 160 years old in the first chapter... and in the fourth, and the seventh, and the eighth, and the eleventh and you get the idea.

There's also a ton of fascinating little side trips into utterly unrelated things going on at the same time, and some of the throwaway lines were enough to send me off into a rabbithole of further research - yay internet.

Take this snippet for instance, regarding an earlier hard news story that Richard Adam Locke was known for:
In the upstate farmhouse he had dubbed Mount Zion, Matthias had apparently established for himself a community of seven wives--a 'harem,' Locke called it--six of them wealthy white women and the seventh a black servant by the name of Isabella Van Wagenen, and had one appointed to each working day in the week, and the black one consecrated for Sundays. (Isabella Van Wagenen was a former slave who would later join the abolition movement, changing her name to the one by which she would be forever remembered: Sojourner Truth.)

Well isn't that fascinating. What it doesn't mention anywhere in the book is that Isabella Van Wagenen / Sojourner Truth was a co-defendant in the Matthias murder trial, which makes it even more interesting. I have so many notes now of interesting things to go find a book about, it's a little ridiculous (luckily this book has some 20% of it's pages taken up with references and citations, so with any luck I will actually be able to find many of those books - I just don't know when I'll have time to read them all.)

Another fun quote, this time quoting from the Moon story itself:

"It did not take David Brewster long to grasp the import of the idea and when he did the effect was extraordinary: "Sir David sprung from his chair in an ecstacy of conviction," reported the Supplement, "and leaping half-way to the ceiling, exclaimed, 'Thou art the man!'"

Which made me laugh. An 1835 early example of "you the man" :)

There's a great deal of material also on Poe, and I think he's pretty much worth a good biography of his own, rather than being shoehorned into this one. Poe and Locke met only once, to anyone's knowledge, and although Poe was deeply upset over the Moon hoax, having published a version of just such a story a month or two earlier to little acclaim, he was in fact a fan of Richard Adam Locke himself. So it seems odd that he's pitched as an adversary for most of the book, only to find out at the very end that Locke said he'd never seen Poe's story, and Poe publicly stated he believed him.

And I never quite understood why there's so much space given to Barnum, and particularly Barnum and Joice Heth (which is a tale that makes me distinctly uncomfortable). And I would have liked more quotes out of the moon story, which actually only gets a few pages dedicated to it in the middle of the book.

Still, Goodman is an engaging writer, and the characters are vivid and larger than life. But as much as I like meandering into side tracks, I kept finding myself thinking "Why is this stuff in this book".

Recommended for: Poe fans, History and Hoaxes fans, Barnum fans
Not recommended for: anyone who likes authors, even NF ones, to get to the point and sooner rather than later ( )
  krazykiwi | Aug 26, 2016 |
In which a fine writer describes three great hoaxes which gripped New York during the 1830's: the New York Sun's Moon Hoax, P. T. Barnum's Joice Heth hoax, and Edgar Allan Poe's Balloon Hoax. Unfortunately, it isn't possible for him to keep all three of these balls in the air, as well as describe the emergence of the popular newspaper in New York during this period, and write a book which is of a manageable length. Moreover, the Moon Hoax is far more interesting than the other two, with its elaborate description of the lunarians' civilization, as well as lunar hydrology and vegetation. Although the author is an outstanding stylist with an evident knowledge of and affection for a fascinating period, his discursive (and occasionally repetitive) meanderings will cause even the most cordial reader a few mutterings as their second week plowing through the book gets longer and longer. ( )
2 vote Big_Bang_Gorilla | Jun 12, 2012 |
In 1834, a penny paper called the Sun managed to eke out a new model for news that appealed to the working man (and, based on advertising, women) by providing news of interest to a wide range of people at a reasonable price. Prior to this, newspapers mainly catered to merchants and business, and often included shipping manifests and sailing schedules, news of prices and markets abroad, etc. The Sun, though, included a more "blue collar" style - police and court reporting was more lurid than shipping, for instance - and was able to draw a new segment of the population to build a circulation of around 2500 papers per day, competitive with other, more expensive sheets.

Now, the newspaper business at the time was pretty cutthroat. Editors didn't mind broadly copying from competitors and other magazines and journals, libel was pretty commonplace, basically anything goes to sell papers. And in 1835, the Sun published a series of stories from an Edinborough astronomy journal summarizing new discoveries of life on the Moon by one of the leading astronomers of the day. These were some pretty amazing discoveries, to include a civilization of intelligent man-bats and an entire ecosystem of animals and plants.Needless to say, circulation went through the roof, and the Sun almost overnight became the most widely read paper in the world, dwarfing circulation at competing papers by a factor of ten or more.

Trouble is, the story was completely made up. Although the publisher and editor didn't admit the fraud until decades later (and in very oblique fashion), the story was debunked in the ensuing months. Funny thing though, circulation didn't drop. The Sun continued to be one of the most widely read papers, influencing journalistic style and the newspaper business model in most American cities for decades to come.

Matthew Goodman's The Sun and The Moon tells the story of the Sun's hoax, its aftermath, and connection to some pretty well known names like P. T. Barnum and Edgar A. Poe. It's a pretty good look into the newspaper wars in mid-19th century New York, a subject I clearly need to return to. My one criticism - the reading the text sometimes felt like taking a dog for a walk in a park. At a moment's notice, Goodman takes us off down a rabbit trail that eventually connects back up with main story. It was a bit distracting at times and occasionally jarring. Generally, this was a good book, though! ( )
4 vote drneutron | Dec 6, 2010 |
There is much to like about this book. Unfortunately, that cannot make up for its fundamental flaw – the book cannot really decide what it wants to be. Well researched, well told, but well shy of a focus.

Goodman often paints a good picture. In particular, the book’s opening descriptions of New York do an excellent job of letting the reader know how it felt to be a part of that city. And other descriptions in the book are similarly skilled.

However, one minute the book is a description of the newspaper business, the next it is a description of hoaxes and their role in 19th Century New York, the next it is a biography (of a number of people – even the biographies jump all over with in-depth backgrounds of newspaperman Richard Adams Locke [author of the moon hoax], P.T. Barnum, and Edgar Allan Poe), the next it is discussion of slavery, the next is…well, I lost count of the many ways this book strayed from it’s many points. As one huge example of the wormholes it often dived into – an entire chapter is devoted to details of Poe (including sections quoting his writing) that do not seem relevant to the entire narrative.

Maybe there is an overriding theme here. Maybe the author would contend he is trying to meld the zeitgeist with the people who made it what it was. Maybe he is trying to show how hoaxing, the growth of newspapers, and the seminally influential men of the time work together. Maybe I’m just grasping at straws to explain why this book contains all it does.

There are parts of this book well worth reading. Much about the moon hoax itself is good, the history of the development of the penny papers is good, and, as I’ve already indicated, the pictures painted by the author’s words are often excellent. Are these bits of gold worth the wanderings the reader is put through to get to any of these jewels? I’m not convinced it is. ( )
1 vote figre | May 20, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Goodman does a wonderful job of bringing the times to life with an attention to detail that enhances the story, rather than bogging it down.
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Is there any thing as extravagant as the imaginations of men's brains?

John Locke,
An Essay on Human Understanding
For my mother and father, lifelong New Yorkers
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A penny a paper; that was the basic equation.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0465002579, Hardcover)

The Sun and the Moon tells the delightful, entertaining, and surprisingly true story of how in the summer of 1835 a series of articles in the Sun, the first of the city’s “penny papers,” convinced the citizens of New York that the moon was inhabited.

Six articles, purporting to reveal the lunar discoveries made by a world-famous British astronomer, described the life found on the moon—including unicorns, beavers that walked upright, and, strangest of all, four-foot-tall flying man-bats. The series quickly became the most widely circulated newspaper story of the era. And the Sun, a brash working-class upstart less than two years old, had become the most widely read newspaper in the world.

Told in richly novelistic detail, The Sun and the Moon brings the raucous world of 1830s New York City vividly to life—the noise, the excitement, the sense that almost anything was possible. The book overflows with larger-than-life characters, including Richard Adams Locke, author of the moon series (who never intended it to be a hoax at all); a fledgling showman named P.T. Barnum, who had just brought his own hoax to New York; and the young writer Edgar Allan Poe, who was convinced that the moon series was a plagiarism of his own work.

An exhilarating narrative history of a city on the cusp of greatness and a nation newly united by affordable newspapers, The Sun and the Moon may just be the strangest true story you’ve ever read.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:05 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A study of a nineteenth-century journalistic hoax describes how a series of articles appearing in the "New York Sun" in 1835 purported to reveal lunar discoveries made by a noted British astronomer concerning life on the moon.

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