Wednesday, May 31

Harvard Book Store Presents (Past Events)Special Events Archive

Jill Lepore

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Jill Lepore discusses Joe Gould’s Teeth

Online pre-sales (ticket + book) on sale April 25. $5 Tickets on sale May 9 at 9am. Unable to attend? Order the book(s) or pre-order a signed copy from Harvard Book Store. No Brattle Passes.

This event includes a book signing.

Harvard Book Store and Mass Humanities welcome New Yorker staff writer and acclaimed Harvard historian JILL LEPORE—author of National Book Award finalist Book of Ages and The Secret History of Wonder Woman—for the paperback release of her latest book, Joe Gould’s Teeth, the tale of her search for the long-lost, century-old manuscript called “The Oral History of Our Time.”

About Joe Gould’s Teeth

Joe Gould, a madman, believed he was the most brilliant historian of the twentieth century. So did some of his friends, a group of modernist writers and artists that included E. E. Cummings, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, John Dos Passos, and Ezra Pound. Gould began his life’s work before the First World War, announcing that he intended to write down nearly everything anyone ever said to him. “I am trying to preserve as much detail as I can about the normal life of every day people,” he explained, because “as a rule, history does not deal with such small fry.” By 1942, when The New Yorker published a profile of Gould written by the reporter Joseph Mitchell, Gould’s manuscript had grown to more than nine million words. But when Gould died in 1957, in a mental hospital, the manuscript was nowhere to be found. Then, in 1964, in “Joe Gould’s Secret,” a second profile, Mitchell claimed that “The Oral History of Our Time” had been, all along, merely a figment of Gould’s imagination. Lepore, unpersuaded, decided to find out.

Joe Gould’s Teeth
 is a Poe-like tale of detection, madness, and invention. Digging through archives all over the country, Lepore unearthed evidence that “The Oral History of Our Time” did in fact once exist. Relying on letters, scraps, and Gould’s own diaries and notebooks—including volumes of his lost manuscript—Lepore argues that Joe Gould’s real secret had to do with sex and the color line, with modernists’ relationship to the Harlem Renaissance, and, above all, with Gould’s terrifying obsession with the African American sculptor Augusta Savage. In ways that even Gould himself could not have imagined, what Gould wrote down really is a history of our time: unsettling and ferocious.


“Lepore has taken up the mantle of literary resurrectionist, and in Joe Gould’s Teeth she succeeds despite the unsavory nature of her subject’s life and spurious literary legacy. Lepore shrewdly recounts her quest to find a near-mythical ‘lost’ manuscript by her subject, the New York eccentric who claimed to have written down nearly everything anyone ever said to him, starting before the outbreak of World War I. . . . A madman’s grossly engrossing tale.” —The New York Times

“Lepore has established herself as perhaps the most prolific, nimble and interesting writer of American history today, vigorously kicking at the past until she dislodges it from the ossifying grip of received wisdom. . . . As she brings to bear the methods of an ace historian at the top of her game, Lepore turns Joe Gould’s Teeth into a ripping detective story.” —The Washington Post

“A well-aimed hand grenade of a book, fiercely concentrated in its precision and unflinching in its revelations. Best-selling Lepore’s exciting approach to hidden and scandalous historical stories is drawing an enthusiastic, ever-growing readership that will be well primed for this thoughtful exposé.” —Booklist, starred review

Books by Our Author

The featured book for this event is Joe Gould’s Teeth, which will be for sale at the event for 20% off. The following titles will also be for purchase this evening:

  • Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin
  • The Secret History of Wonder Woman

Co-Sponsored by Mass Humanities

Mass Humanities

Mass Humanities conducts and supports programs that use history, literature, philosophy, and the other humanities disciplines to enhance and improve civic life in Massachusetts. Learn more at


Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard University and a staff writer at The New Yorker. Her books include the New York Times best seller The Secret History of Wonder Woman and Book of Ages, a finalist for the National Book Award. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Photo credit: Dari Michele