The Lifespan of a Fact

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The Lifespan of a Fact

An essayist and his fact-checker do battle about the use of truth and the definition of nonfiction.

“Genius . . . In The Lifespan of a Fact, D'Agata and Fingal turn everything around on us until even our most basic assumptions are left unclear. . . A vivid and reflective meditation on the nature of nonfiction as literary art.” —Los Angeles Times

"The Lifespan of a Fact might be the most improbably entertaining book ever published.” —NPR

“A whip-smart, mordantly funny, thought-provoking rumination on journalistic responsibility and literary license.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Less a book than a knock-down, drag-out fight between two tenacious combatants over questions of truth, belief, history, myth, memory and forgetting.”—New York Times Book Review

Lifespan is remarkable not only as an intellectual adventure, but for its portrayal of the search for these kinds of truths as a conversation. It is a high-stakes exercise not of surety but of anxiety . . . open to the production of wonder, but equally to that of doubt, frustration, and betrayal.”—New Republic

“A fascinating and dramatic power struggle over the intriguing question of what nonfiction should, or can, be.” — Lydia Davis

“Thus begins the alternately absorbing and infuriating exercise that is The Lifespan of a Fact, a Talmudically arranged account of the conflict between Jim Fingal, zealous checker, and John D’Agata, nonfiction fabulist.” —New York Times Magazine

“More than anything, The Lifespan of a Fact pushes readers to consider not just the possibilities of art, but also its boundaries. It’s as concerned with what we can get away with as whether we should.” —The AV Club

“A singularly important meditation on fact and fiction, the imagination and life, fidelity and freedom. Provocative, maddening, and compulsively readable, The Lifespan of a Fact pulses through a forest of detail to illuminate high-stakes, age-old questions about art and ethics—questions to which the book (blessedly!) provides no easy answers.” — Maggie Nelson

Enthralling . . . Given that we live in a climate of spin, where everything is up for debate depending on how it is presented, this book provides essential and exciting reading for anyone interested in how we define ‘the truth.’” —The Star-Tribune

“A riveting essay delving into the arcane yet entertaining debate within the writing community over the relationship between truth and accuracy when writing creative nonfiction....” — Kirkus Reviews

“This is a profound, comic, and ultimately elegiac experiment in collaborative prose. Both the author and the fact-checker come off as brilliant, obsessive, brave, stubborn, rigorous, principled and messianic. . . Will the doppelgangers slay each other? Will imagination triumph over pedestrian reality? Why are facts so hard to fit into a lyric sentence?” —Wayne Koestenbaum

“The most interesting book to have been released in the last twelve months.” —The Kenyon Review

“An enraging, fascinating, singular book.” —Slate Magazine

“Ever since his first book, John D’Agata has been a crucial articulator of the possibilities of the essay. In this new book, The Lifespan of a Fact—which is by far his funniest, most furious, most unfettered, and possibly his most indispensable—D’Agata conveys more fully than he ever has before his vision of the slippery nature of existence, the deep unknowability of things, the beautiful facticity of ‘nonfiction,’ and the fictionality of ‘fact.’ Anyone who cares about the nature and the future of the essay should read this book.” —David Shields

“Fascinating.” —Washington Post