The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth Century New York


Author:  Matthew Goodman

Title:  The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York

Genre:  Nonfiction—History

Publication Date:  2008

Number of Pages:  350

Geographical Setting: New York City

Time Period:  1830-1841

Series:  None

Plot Summary:  During the summer of 1835 newspaper editor Richard Adams Locke was given an assignment by his newspaper’s owner—come up with a compelling news story that focused on the new scientific discoveries taking in place almost daily in Europe.  It was never specified that the story had to be true.

This is the story of the single greatest journalistic hoax ever committed.  Using just enough scientific fact, descriptions of real technological advances, and some old scientific journals, Locke created a tale that had much of New York City (and eventually much of North America and Europe) believing in a lunar society where unicorns, beavers that walked on two legs, lunar man-bats who built pyramids lived peacefully in a utopian community.

Interwoven into the narrative are a series of related micro-histories—the rise of the “penny paper” which foretold the rise of a literate middle class in American society; the creation of a new form of entertainment called the “theatre of oddities,” promoted by then fledgling producer P. T. Barnum; and a suspenseful account of a vengeful and raving Edgar Allan Poe stalking the streets of New York in search of the hoax’s author, who was convinced Locke’s story was a plagiarized version of his own unfinished tale.

Subject Headings:  Newspapers, Hoaxes, Abolition Movement, New York City—History, Moon, Lunar Exploration

Appeal:  accessible, compelling, complex, dramatic, engrossing, fast-paced, humorous, layered, multiple plot lines, multiple points of view, urban, vivid

3 terms that best describe this book: enthralling, cinematic, fantastical

Similar Authors and Works:


Fakers:  Hoaxers, Con  Artists, Counterfeiters, and Other Great Pretenders by Paul Maliszewski.  The author interviews modern day practitioners of the art of creating fake historical objects and perpetrators of journalistic and Internet hoaxes to gain insight into the process of creating a convincing deception and why it is so easy to dupe the public.

P.T. Barnum: America’s Greatest Showman by Philp B. Kunhardt Jr., Philip B. Kunhardt III, and Peter W. Kunhardt.  This lushly illustrated biography continues the life story of Joice Heth’s infamous promoter.  In a series of essays that describe the exhibits Barnum continued to promote for the rest of his life, Barnum’s everlasting appreciation for a well-produced “humbug” (hoax) is evident.

Fanatics and Fire-eaters: Newspapers and the Coming of the Civil War by Lorman A. Ratner and Dwight L. Teeter, Jr.  The Sun’s editor Richard Adams Locke used the attention the newspaper received from the moon hoax to promote the abolitionist cause.  This book describes efforts of newspapers nationwide to promote their opinions about slavery and how these efforts pushed both the North and the South closer to the Civil War.


The Blackest Bird: A Novel of Murder in Nineteenth-Century New York by Joel Rose.  Based on a true crime, the murder of a young and attractive tobacco shopgirl fill the pages of New York City’s newspapers in the summer of 1841.  This fictional account of the investigation focuses on the principal investigator, Constable John Hays, the vicious Five Points neighborhood, and the leading suspect—Edgar Allan Poe.

The Hum Bug by Harold Schechter.  P.T. Barnum and Edgar Allan Poe team up to solve the murder of a young woman at Barnum’s museum of oddities.  In the course of solving the mystery, the author also provides vivid descriptions of the exhibits and performers in Barnum’s acts, including Bruno the Armless Wonder and Willie Schnitzler the Bearded Lady.

The First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells.  This science fiction novel tells the tale of a doctor and a businessman who discover a new material that can resist the effects of gravity.  After fashioning the material into a spaceship, they sail to the moon.  There, like Locke speculated, they find they are not the only living things on the lunar surface.

Name: Amanda


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