Authenticity, by Alice Sherwood

9th May, 2022

I loved this book. Fast, funny start, and absolutely fizzing with interesting ideas from art, science, history, commerce, fashion and beyond. Sherwood tells a great story, but one of the things that delighted me was the sheer range of stories that I’d not encountered before.

There is, for example, a great discussion of the arms race between cuckoo-type birds and the birds who risk becoming their victims. The “host” birds produce ever more elaborately pattern eggs, while the cuckoos attempt to copy them.

Another staggering story is of the Andy Warhol paintings of Che Guavara which not only weren’t made by Warhol, but made and sold without his knowledge. Warhol’s former assistant Gerard Malanga was arrested for making them and charged with forgery. He sent a telegram to Warhol begging for help. CHE GUEVARAS ARE ORIGINALS, Warhol replied. HOWEVER MALANGA NOT AUTHORISED TO SELL. In other words, Warhol was happy to get Malanga off the hook, as long as Warhol himself received the proceeds of hte sale. “Andy’s mere word could turn a not-Warhol into a Warhol,” writes Sherwood.

There are old-school cons, discussions of “authentic” apple juice that contains no trace of apples (pear tastes more apple-y, apparently), Shakespeare as plagiarist, Ralph Lauren vs Yves St Laurent – and don’t get me started on the medieval turkeys of Lubeck.

I’ve been thinking and writing about truth and fakery for a long time, but most of the stories here were quite new to me, and all of them were fun and thought-provoking. The book is out this week, in the UK at least. Strongly recommended.

The paperback of The Data Detective was published on 1 February in the US and Canada. Title elsewhere: How To Make The World Add Up.

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