Top Five Books About Forgery, Best Nonfiction For Beginners

The sea of books dedicated to the topic of forgery is vast. Some of these books are brilliant, others not so much. My list of top five nonfiction books about forgery helps you navigate into some of the most rewarding literature this genre has to offer.

This list was made for people who have not spent much time looking into the subject of forgery. It largely focuses on literary forgery because that is the type of which is most currently most fascinating to me. However, it there are books included here that deal with the field more broadly, covering general aspects of forgery, hoaxes, and other aspects of deceptive practices.

Grafton 2019

Grafton, Anthony, and Ann Blair. Forgers and Critics, New Edition: Creativity and Duplicity in Western Scholarship. New, Princeton University Press, 2019.

This book, originally published in 1990 and based on a lecture from 1988, helped establish the study of forgery as a distinct field within literary studies. Written by the renowned scholar of Renaissance and early modern Europe, Anthony Grafton, it is a short book (composed of less than 200 pages) that beautifully presents superb information. The new edition, published in 2019, has a foreword written by the marvelous Ann Blair and an afterwards by its original author. This book is affordable and is an excellent place for anyone new to this genre to begin.

Nickell 2009

Nickell, Joe. Real or Fake: Studies in Authentication. University Press of Kentucky, 2009. JSTOR, Accessed 19 May 2021.

This book was published in 2009 and is a great introductory work into the work of authentication, determining whether an object is real or fake. The book is split into three main parts, (1) documents, (2) photographs, and (3) other artifacts. Each part opens with a general overview chapter followed by chapters that deal with objects that Joe has personally helped with authenticating. Some of the more popular cases he discusses are the Diary of Jack the Ripper and Lincoln’s Lost Gettysburg Address.

Freeman 2014

Freeman, Arthur. Bibliotheca Fictiva, A Collection of Books & Manuscripts Relating to Literary Forgery, 400 BC – AD 2000. Bernard Quaritch, 2014.

Arthur Freeman’s Bibliotheca Fictiva (2014) is a beautifully composed record of the contents of the library him and his wife amassed over the course of about 50 years. The first half is in narrative form and takes you on a trip exploring 2,500 years worth of different forgers, forgeries, and critics from various parts of the Western world. The second half is a catalogue of the 1,676 items that they had in their library in 2014 when the book was published. This book is a bit more expensive but is well worth the read and the continual reference for this genre.

Becker 2018

Becker, Daniel, et al., editors. Faking, Forging, Counterfeiting: Discredited Practices at the Margins of Mimesis. Transcript Verlag, 2018. JSTOR, Accessed 19 May 2021.

This book is mainly a collection of 13 essays that address numerous aspects of deception. The work is 260 pages and is open-access, which means you can read it for free right now if you want to, just click the link in the citation above to access it. Henry Keazor’s introduction is ideal for anyone who’s new to the concept and reality of forgery because it discusses the difficulties that arise when labeling items as forgeries. Two of the chapters that I found to be particularly entertaining were Jacqueline Hylkema’s account of the montebank and Manuel Mühlbacher’s entry on Voltaire.

Stephens 2019

Stephens, Walter, et al. Literary Forgery in Early Modern Europe, 1450–1800. Illustrated, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019.

This book is also mainly a collection of 13 essays. However, the scope is more limited due to it focusing solely on European literary forgery between 1450 and 1800. Both Anthony Grafton and Arthur Freeman (two of the authors listed above) have a chapter included in this approximately 270 page book. Arthur’s bit contains a thought-provoking portion about how to define forgery and Grafton’s an informative section on the sources used for deception by the archforger Annius of Viterbo.


Bonus Mentions

Ruthven, K. (2001). Faking Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511483202

Ehrman, Bart. Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics. 1st ed., Oxford University Press, 2012.

Martínez, Javier. Fakes and Forgers of Classical Literature. Brill, 2014.

Havens, Earle. Fakes, Lies, and Forgeries: Rare Books and Manuscripts from the Arthur and Janet Freeman Bibliotheca Fictiva Collection. Second, Revised, Sheridan Libraries, 2014.

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