Joe Gould's Teeth
by Jill Lepore


Overview - From 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 twentieth century.  Read more...


 
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More About Joe Gould's Teeth by Jill Lepore
 
 
 
Overview
From 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 twentieth 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 every day 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.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9781101947586
  • ISBN-10: 1101947586
  • Publisher: Alfred a Knopf Inc
  • Publish Date: May 2016
  • Page Count: 235
  • Dimensions: 1.25 x 5 x 7.37 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.75 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Literary
Books > History > Historiography
Books > History > United States - 20th Century

 
BookPage Reviews

A bohemian's lost notebooks

Joe Gould—mysterious madman, darling of the modern poets and, perhaps, a genius—began writing a book in the late 1920s. Or rather, several books. His writing, he believed, would turn the field of history on its head. Rather than stories of great men, Gould had a vision of capturing the everyday speech of people on the streets of New York. And so, pencil in hand, he went out to listen. He scrawled overheard bits in composition notebooks, and the notebooks came to dominate his small apartment, or so it was said. But the towers of notebooks are missing. Jill Lepore, at once detective and historian, decides to find them.

What readers will find in Joe Gould’s Teeth is a story of archival research of epic proportions. Lepore puts farflung snippets of the past together to tell a story about Gould and his writings that no one has yet heard—a story that takes readers into the heart of Harlem, into the classrooms of Harvard and down the long corridors of mental hospitals. What is at stake, though, is more than “What happened to Gould?” There’s also the question of history itself. What should history—and biography—be? Can a historian see anything accurately, or in the end, will her portraits of the past only reveal her own reflection? 

At once researching Gould and thinking alongside him about questions that hang behind every historian’s work, Lepore offers a book that is exciting and unsettling. Unlike her past work—think The Secret History of Wonder Woman—Lepore herself is very much a character in this book, and the hunt for the truth about Gould takes on a sort of Edgar Allan Poe-like atmosphere of dread and anticipation. At times haunting and even hallucinatory, this book is Lepore’s most vulnerable and thought-provoking work yet.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 
BAM Customer Reviews