Book Article

Torn to 'Pieces'

The controversy over James Frey's memoir -- Examining the truth behind ''A Million Little Pieces'' and other embellished works

The controversy over James Frey's memoir

The tempest over James Frey's embellished memoir A Million Little Pieces isn't exactly a new phenomenon. Here's how some major books first published as nonfiction stack up, on a scale where 10 means absolute truthiness.

THE EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE Forrest Carter (1976) Orphan Forrest learns life lessons from Cherokee grandparents. THE RAP? Carter wasn't an orphan, had dubious claims to Cherokee heritage, and was a virulent white supremacist and Klansman.
TRUTHINESS METER: 1

ROOTS Alex Haley (1976) Haley traces his family history from Africa to the antebellum South. THE RAP? Haley dubbed the book ''faction'' — and paid Harold Courlander $650,000 for unintentional lifting of material from Courlander's 1967 novel The African.
TRUTHINESS METER: 4

CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND Chuck Barris (1984) Even as he created The Dating Game and hosted The Gong Show in the '70s, Barris claims he worked as a CIA assassin. THE RAP? Well, he does call it an ''unauthorized autobiography.''
TRUTHINESS METER: 0

ANGELA'S ASHES Frank McCourt (1996) Young Frank grows up poor in Ireland under an alcoholic, underemployed dad and a long-suffering mom. THE RAP? None really, though can memoirists really recall detailed conversations from their childhood?
TRUTHINESS METER: 9

A MILLION LITTLE PIECES James Frey (2003) A young man with a checkered criminal record beats drug and alcohol addiction, mostly with non-AA gumption. THE RAP? There's evidence that Frey trumped up his criminal past and fictionalized some scenes.
TRUTHINESS METER: 6

Originally posted Jan 20, 2006 Published in issue #860 Jan 27, 2006 Order article reprints
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