350 pages, B/w illus
This is the remarkable story of the outrageous newspaper hoax that captivated 19th century America and gave birth to tabloid journalism.1835 was an extraordinary year in New York City. As the most populous city in America, business was booming, its port was the busiest in the world, and a huge surge in construction was rapidly transforming the city. It was a chaotic time when anything could happen, and for a few weeks during that sweltering summer, something quite extraordinary did: the "New York Sun", the first of the city's 'penny papers', perpetrated one of the greatest hoaxes of all time when it convinced the people of New York that the moon was inhabited.In an Orson Welles-like feat that presaged the War of the Worlds radio hoax by a little over a century, the "Sun" ran a series of seven articles presenting new findings by a famous astronomer about forms of life on the moon. In astonishing detail, the author presented the various alien beings - the birds, buffalo, one-horned zebras, and four-foot-tall man-bats. As a result of the moon series, the "Sun" - an upstart working-class newspaper less than two years old - became the largest-selling newspaper in the world, and for the first time, newspapers became a truly mass market medium.Those who have written about the Moon Hoax in the past (and there are very few of them) claim that it was perpetrated by the newspaper to increase circulation. But in fact, Matthew Goodman shows, the hoax had a far more earnest basis. Its author was Richard Adams Locke, an English radical who had very strong ideas about the importance of protecting free scientific inquiry from theological influence. At the time, the most popular astronomers were the so-called religious astronomers, who believed that every heavenly body (including the moon) was inhabited, because God would not create a world without also creating intelligent beings to appreciate it. Locke intended his moon series as a satire of the religious astronomers-but his stories were so vivid that people actually believed what he had written.This extraordinary story also brings in a host of sub-plots, each more bizarre than the first, involving names such as showman PT Barnum and writer Edgar Allen Poe. In "The Sun and the Moon", Goodman vividly brings to life a town on the brink of becoming a world-class city - the sites, the smells, the sounds. It is a world utterly strange and yet in many ways familiar, in which newsboys hustle their papers, editors jostle for the latest scoop, authors accuse other authors of plagiarism, science and religion compete for intellectual ascendancy, and everyone has their eyes glued to a newspaper.
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