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Customer reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars

on 1 April 2014
Kembrew McLeod is a professor of communication studies at the University of Iowa who successfully trademarked the term 'freedom of expression'. This is just one of many pranks he has perpetrated (more are revealed in this 'stealth autobiography') and thus he has an insider's perspective on the subject matter.

McLeod describes how are pranks can 'speak truth to power' and 'cultivate critical-thinking skills', however he covers a variety of other examples in this survey including spiritualism, confidence tricksters (one of the earliest successfully asked pedestrians to lend him their watches for the day), and the baleful influence of fabrications such as "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion". A recurring theme is the media and what happens when pranks and hoaxes enter its echo-chamber. Pranks can be influenced and facilitated by new media, whilst they in turn can bring about changes in these media.

"Pranksters" is an entertaining read and I found myself frequently giggling at McLeod's (chiefly U.S.) examples, and his chatty prose. I particularly enjoyed reading about Benjamin Franklin's baiting of a hapless astrologer, a long-running argument between Houdini and Conan Doyle about spiritualism, and the countercultural stunts of Paul Krassner.

The book, however, does have a dark side, as McLeod himself writes: "Despite some amusing moments sprinkled throughout "Pranksters", I can't shake the feeling of dread that runs through it." Pranks and hoaxes work because they tap into people's cherished beliefs, and if these beliefs include theories about particular racial groups, for example, then fiction can be cited as fact worryingly quickly. I did sometimes wonder about the veracity of what I was reading: was I being pranked by McLeod (he has form). Luckily his assertions are meticulously sourced and cited in the endnotes, so I think he can be trusted...

[I was given a free download of this book by the publishers for review.]
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on 1 April 2014
I love reading History books, I always do, up until this one. First of all, when I hear pranks I clearly think of one thing and the author thinks of something totally different, the pranks aren't as we would think of them today, it was more misinformation to be perfectly honest. There's a lot of sections about written pranks, with lots of skewed information and as I said, misinformation.

I was intrigued by the book, and some of it interested me. However. The dreaded however. I took one look at the first page and the layout of it with pages of writing barely broken up and I immediately wanted to put the book down and walk away.

Add to that, the fact that the book was very poorly written. You're faced with pages of packed text (or at least it was on Kindle), that is very hard to follow, worded awkwardly, and very difficult to read. I read History books of many descriptions, I read History textbooks, I read books from all genres, and never before have I struggled to read a book like I have with this one. I skimmed whatever was difficult to read, or I couldn't follow.

The pace was clunky, the flow regarding everything was sloppy and very disconnected/disjointed. There was no linking of the chapters, it's like the author just chucked everything in with no thought about it, and it's very amateur hourish.

By the halfway mark, I had well and truly given up trying to follow this book and read it properly, I abandoned it in favour of simply looking up the information myself, and reading it from somewhere that writes it concisely, and in an easy to understand manner.
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