The necessity of fact-checking nonfiction has been discussed and disputed off and on in the publishing world over the past 40 years, usually in the wake of discoveries of inaccuracies or outright deceptions. Clifford Irving, named 'Con Man of the Year' by Time Magazine in 1972, sold a fake biography of the reclusive Howard Hughes and spent more than a year in prison for fraud. Six years before the flurry of discussion that has greeted The Lifespan of a Fact, there was the great debate — and much finger-pointing — following revelations that James Frey, author of the best-selling memoir A Million Little Pieces, had exaggerated or simply made up information about his traumatic life. In 2008, Margaret B. Jones’s lauded memoir, Love and Consequences, the saga of her biracial gangbanging girlhood in the 1980s in South Central Los Angeles was revealed as pure fiction and 'Margaret B. Jones' to be a pseudonym for a white middle-class woman from Sherman Oaks, Margaret Seltzer. The book was trashed by Riverhead, its publisher. [...]
[John] D’Agata is an associate professor at the University of Iowa, teaching creative nonfiction writing, and is the author or editor of four books, so he should know better — and I’m sure he does. So what is he up to? This is the intriguing question. What’s his game? You could say, as some have, that he is lazy, unwilling to follow through with the heavy and often tedious background work to get it right. You could say he doesn’t care about his responsibility as a writer to tell a story and enlighten his readership, or even the people about whom he is writing. You could say — and I would agree if you did — that D’Agata is not only untrustworthy but downright arrogant.
For example: When [Jim] Fingal proves that there are 31 strip clubs in Las Vegas and not 34 as D’Agata claimed, D’Agata says: 'The rhythm of "34" was better in the sentence than the rhythm of "31," so I changed it.' And when he swaps the name of a bar from 'Boston Saloon' to 'Bucket of Blood,' it’s okay, because '"Bucket of Blood" is more interesting.'”
— Lee Gutkind, Los Angeles Review of Books