The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum

The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum

by Candace Fleming, Ray Fenwick

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Step right up! Meet the astounding . . . the amazing . . . P. T. Barnum!

The award-winning author of The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary, Amelia Lost, and Our Eleanor brings us the larger-than-life biography of showman P. T. Barnum. Known far and wide for his jumbo elephants, midgets, and three-ring circuses,


Step right up! Meet the astounding . . . the amazing . . . P. T. Barnum!

The award-winning author of The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary, Amelia Lost, and Our Eleanor brings us the larger-than-life biography of showman P. T. Barnum. Known far and wide for his jumbo elephants, midgets, and three-ring circuses, here’ s a complete and captivating look at the man behind the Greatest Show on Earth. Readers can visit Barnum’s American Museum; meet Tom Thumb, the miniature man (only 39 inches tall) and his tinier bride (32 inches); experience the thrill Barnum must have felt when, at age 60, he joined the circus; and discover Barnum’s legacy to the 19th century and beyond. Drawing on old circus posters, photographs, etchings, ticket stubs—and with incredible decorative art by Ray Fenwick—this book presents history as it’s never been experienced before—a show-stopping event!

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
New York Times Book Review, December 6, 2009: “Lively… an engrossing portrait…honest and fun”

Starred Review, Booklist, June 1, 2009:
“The material is inherently juicy, but credit Fleming’s vivacious prose, bountiful period illustrations, and copious source notes for fashioning a full picture of one of the forbearers of modern celebrity.”

Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2009:
"As revealing as it is entertaining."

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October 2009: "the extensive gallery of period photos, engravings, and advertising bills, are worth the price of admission, and bibliography, source notes, index, and web resources will assist students in turning a rousing good read into an entertaining school report."

Publishers Weekly, August 31, 2009: "Audiences will step right up to this illuminating and thorough portrait of an entertainment legend"

School Library Journal, September 2009: "An outstanding choice for all middle level and secondary collections."

Instructor, November/December 2009: "You'll want to invite readers to step right up to this three-ring circus of a biography, which not only tells the story of P.T. Barnum, but also the circus culture he helped create and his impact and modern entertainment."

Abby McGanney Nolan
In this lively biography, Fleming briskly and clearly describes how a boy from Connecticut survived his grandfather's practical jokes and grew up to be the supreme showman of the day…There are many fascinating tidbits here, and with its generous assortment of sidebars, photos and illustrations, the book sometimes resembles Barnum's world-renowned three-ring circus—you don't know where to look first—but it is enlightening through and through.
—The Washington Post
James Hynes
Candace Fleming's lively and well-researched biography, The Great and Only Barnum, takes an evenhanded approach to her subject, though it's clear from the start that she has real affection for him. Through a vivid central narrative, fascinating period photos and informative sidebars on everything from the history of the museum to the uses of circus slang, Fleming gives us an engrossing portrait of a Yankee entrepreneur who was inventive, shrewd and fundamentally happy
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
The life of showman Phineas Taylor Barnum gets show-stopping treatment in Fleming's (The Lincolns) latest biographical work. Presented as clever, resilient and ever-consumed with making a buck, the Barnum of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is brought to life in anecdotes over 11 chapters. Nicknamed “Tale” as a boy, he “hated farmwork” (“I was always ready to concoct fun, or lay plans for money-making, but hand-work was decidedly not in my line”). His personal struggles with alcohol and a less-than-happy marriage are detailed alongside his many public successes (and hoaxes). A tour of his famed American Museum and an account of a day at the circus (complete with descriptions of the human curiosities Barnum employed) set readers in the middle of the singular late 19th-century entertainment scene. As in a real circus, the large-format pages include plenty to grab readers' attention: white-on-black sidebars that put the entrepreneur's feats in context (“African Americans were barred from entering Barnum's American Museum except on certain days”), b&w photos and advertising posters. Audiences will step right up to this illuminating and thorough portrait of an entertainment legend. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Barbara L. Talcroft
In a format filled with fascinating photographs and engravings, decorated with period flourishes, Fleming guides young readers through the tempestuous career of the "greatest showman on earth." From humble beginnings, a prankster grandfather, and an aversion to physical work, P.T. Barnum (1810—1891) developed an eclectic museum that attracted crowds eager to see wonders ranging from nature collections to entertainment at its most bizarre. The author presents a tour of the seven "Saloons" of Barnum's first New York museum, describing the historical dioramas; unusual humans like the Highland Mammoth Boys, a bearded lady, and a skeleton man; Barnum's own office (where he greeted visitors); exotic stuffed animals; and live animals—giraffes, a rhinoceros, and an even an orangutan. Visitors did not want to leave! After two of his museums suffered disastrous fires, Barnum, now rich, turned his attention to circuses, for which he became equally famous. In partnership with various entrepreneurs, Barnum, always seeking the newest and most amazing acts (like Jumbo, the giant elephant), became the inspiration and owner of a huge complex of workers, caterers, railroad cars, animal cages, and an estate in Bridgeport where the entire enterprise could rest between tours. With Fleming's lively text, her considerable research, and reproductions of period ads, playbills, and posters, this biography of a "tremendous, stupendous life" is sure to attract applause. Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft
VOYA - Beth E. Andersen
Abandon all preconceived notions about P. T. Barnum, ye who enter here. Settle down and enjoy this delightful, illuminating, illustrated biography of one of America's more fascinating characters. Fleming tells the riveting story of showman Barnum, who invented aquariums, reinvented museums and circuses, never stopped working, bounced back from numerous catastrophes—bankruptcy, total business losses from fire—and was a surprisingly hardworking public servant whose agile intellect also found pleasure in hosting a popular literary salon. Fleming's work is rich in photographs, engravings, and frequent sidebars that add texture to the flavor of the American psyche that was ripe for what Barnum was offering. She puts into perspective the attraction for human curiosities (bearded women, skeleton men, Tom Thumb, Chang and Eng) during the nineteenth century, a practice that is rightfully repugnant by today's standards. Barnum's ability to think outside the box time and again is a study in entrepreneurship. He thrived on risk-taking and rarely failed. Although he was a self-admitted humbugger, fooling his audiences with hoaxes, he was so good-natured about it that they clamored for more. Fleming offers a terrific accessible insider's view of an important piece of America's cultural and entertainment history. Reviewer: Beth E. Andersen
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up—It is unlikely that Barnum ever actually said "There's a sucker born every minute," but he freely admitted to being a master of the "humbug"—a spectacle that both fooled and entertained the public. This highly readable biography uses primary sources, including Barnum's own words, to trace the man's roller-coaster life from his boyhood in Connecticut to his early career as the creator of the country's most famous "museums" (comparable to sideshows) to his later role as the master of enormously successful circuses, winning and losing several fortunes along the way. Fleming captures Barnum's exuberant personality and describes how his gift for promotion and dedication to delivering what the public wanted made him the world's most famous showman. She also reveals the private Barnum, a man who valued culture, had deep religious beliefs, and devoted considerable time and funds to charity and public service. Fleming is admiring of Barnum, but does not dismiss his weaknesses and faults. The text is supplemented with sidebars and reproductions of period photos and illustrations, including several of Barnum's advertisements. The bibliography includes Web sites and a selection of primary- and secondary-source books, and notes are done in paragraph format. This book goes beyond traditional biography to give students an objective and informative glimpse into the sometimes-exploitative world of 19th-century entertainment. An outstanding choice for all middle level and secondary collections.—Mary Mueller, Rolla Junior High School, MO
Kirkus Reviews
P.T. Barnum is likely to bring to mind the famous circus, but there is much more to the legendary showman, and Fleming brings all of him boldly to life. Born into poverty, Barnum's love for money came at an early age; his first foray into entertainment was the purchase of Joice Heth, reputed to be a 161-year-old slave formerly owned by George Washington's father. When the hoax was revealed, Barnum's name became forever linked with humbug, but he discovered that people did not mind being fooled if they were entertained. The author takes readers on a riveting tour of Barnum's seemingly cursed American Museum, where they encounter such fascinating characters as Siamese twins Chang and Eng and the "Living Skeleton." Much as she admires her subject, she does not flinch in revealing Barnum's notable faults-his cruelty as a husband, indifference as a father, corrupting influence on the dwarf Tom Thumb and exploitation of animals and the deformities and handicaps of human "curiosities." Handsomely designed, the book is abundantly illustrated with circus posters and handbills, photographs, etchings and other visuals. As revealing as it is entertaining. (Biography. 10-14)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.10(w) x 9.60(h) x 0.70(d)
980L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Candace Fleming is the prolific author of many critically acclaimed, bestselling books for children. She lives in Mt. Prospect, Illinois.

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