Megan Harlan
December 01, 2000 AT 05:00 AM EST

Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Don Foster
publisher
Henry Holt and Company
genre
Nonfiction

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+

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