- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
This is a biography of one of the most celebrated and controversial circus performers of all time. But be forewarned: It is about much more. It's about the shift from rural America across the great divide to the Industrial Revolution. It's about lowbrow culture in the 19th century. And at its most revealing, it's about the war that tore the nation in half, and how the cultural images that surrounded and led up to that war found themselves paraded down Main Street and enacted on informal stages everywhere.
Dan Rice played his part in those culture wars; he created famous a blackface character, performed as a minstrel, and worked both sides of the patriotic divide. He was for the South in southern towns, a Union man in the Northeast. He made his fortune during the first golden age of the circus, and was as gruff and totally synthetic as the popular entertainment of the day would tolerate. Later in the century, Gilded Age America would turn to Europe and Shakespeare for inspiration, but the America of Dan Rice was filled with rougher "pleasures": immigrant bashing, racial stereotypes, child labor, hard drinking, and no-holds-barred stunts planned to attract crowds. Surely, America before the Civil War and America afterward were two very different places.
Looking at the popular culture of the day gives us an understanding of what everyday people and their communities were like. Whether you read Dan Rice to find out about "the most famous man you never heard of" (as the book's subtitle suggests) or to see how "the show business" evolved over a 70-year period, you will get a lively sense of Americana at its best and worst: a mirror to the way we were. (Elena Simon)
Elena Simon lives in New York City.