Genuine Fakes: How Phony Things Teach Us About Real Stuff by Lydia Pyne - review by Christopher Hart

Christopher Hart

It’s a Knockoff

Genuine Fakes: How Phony Things Teach Us About Real Stuff


Bloomsbury 304pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

When wildfires were raging in California recently, one of the priceless cultural treasures under threat, we learned, was the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. Among the artefacts in the library is a portrait of the late president done entirely in jelly beans: ten thousand of them, to be precise. Reagan was so fond of these little beans that he even had them put on a space shuttle ahead of a mission in 1983.

Entertaining details of this kind fill Lydia Pyne’s thought-provoking study of fakes and frauds in history. The flavours currently manufactured by the Jelly Belly Candy Company raise a whole host of questions about authenticity (not to mention good taste). Among those currently on offer are Vomit, Earwax, Earthworm and Soap. But who is to say if these flavours are real? The company boasts, ‘We always start by sourcing the real thing.’ The mind boggles.

Similarly, if you think that synthetic banana flavouring tastes nothing like the real thing, then you will also have to explain what the real thing is. And here it gets tricky. The flavour we think of as true banana is the one we all know well: that of

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