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Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous

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Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous

Current Status:
In Season
Don Foster
Henry Holt and Company

We gave it a B+

Best known for outing Joe Klein as the anonymous author of 1996’s Primary Colors, in Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous, Don Foster spryly reveals his capers as a “literary forensics” expert. Claiming that writing style is as individual as a fingerprint, the Vassar English professor attributed a previously unidentified sonnet to Shakespeare, then was overwhelmed with invitations to help solve crimes and mysteries, including bomb threats, the Lewinsky-Tripp ”Talking Points,” and a Pynchonesque literary hoax. His method for determining a text’s authorship is fascinating: Unconscious quirks in language and syntax (like Joe Klein’s love of fancy adverbs) — often inspired by suspects’ favorite books and films, which Foster also studies — are the smoking guns. Though he overuses the scholar-turned-sleuth bit, Foster’s own writing style proves clever and compelling. B+