P. T. Barnum: America's Greatest Showman

P. T. Barnum: America's Greatest Showman

by Philip B. Kunhardt, Peter W. Kunhardt
     
 
One of the earliest practitioners of "the show business, " P.T. Barnum built his reputation largely on the exoticism of others. A man of complex motives, Barnum possessed a unique genius and his influence on popular culture is evident to this day. Barnum will be a three-hour Discovery Channel special airing in October. Illustrations, 260 in color.

Overview

One of the earliest practitioners of "the show business, " P.T. Barnum built his reputation largely on the exoticism of others. A man of complex motives, Barnum possessed a unique genius and his influence on popular culture is evident to this day. Barnum will be a three-hour Discovery Channel special airing in October. Illustrations, 260 in color.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Show-biz pioneer Barnum (1810-1891) was not just the ``most famous and recognizable man'' of his time, he was its ``great liberating force,'' argue the authors (Lincoln: An Illustrated Biography). Here they combine numerous short but deft essays and a rich lode of illustrations to tell Barnum's story and chronicle his huge effect on his country. He began with humbug, touting such frauds as an ancient slave and a ``wooly horse,'' believing nonetheless that he had to give the public its money's worth in entertainment. Proprietor of his American Museum in New York City, Barnum went on to promote an array of amazements: the midget Tom Thumb, the Swedish singer Jenny Lind, bearded ladies, Siamese twins, the first hippopotamus in America. After his museum was destroyed by fire, Barnum resurrected it in the 1870s via a circus, eventually acquiring the famous elephant, Jumbo. Though admiring their subject, the authors acknowledge he reflected the racism of his times, exhibiting examples of ``savage and barbarous tribes.'' The book might have been enriched had they discussed how Barnum's spirit lives on today. (Sept.)
Library Journal
This highly approachable, lavishly illustrated, and wholly entertaining biography of the famous entertainment entrepreneur is neither adulatory tribute nor expos. Drawing on dozens of private and public archives and more than 1000 unpublished letters, the authors present a straightforward, chronological life of the American businessman who had a boundless talent for predicting and manipulating the public's curiosity. A father writing with his two sons, the Kunhardts (Lincoln: An Illustrated Biography, LJ 9/15/92) pay special attention to Barnum's American Museum days in New York City and his personal and financial fluctuations. They have compiled a vast amount of photographic and printed ephemera, much of it extremely rare, that will attract many casual readers and bring new revelations to Barnum enthusiasts. But the just-the-facts writing style, along with the brevity of the chapters, at times impedes the narrative's flow and seems incongruous with the subject's flamboyance. On the other hand, Barnum's autobiographical works leave much to be desired in terms of objectivity. Thus, this work deserves a place alongside A.H. Saxson's acclaimed P.T. Barnum (LJ 8/89). Highly recommended.-Douglas McClemont, New York
Booknews
A vivid portrayal of P.T. Barnum, genius entrepreneur, friend of the clergy, inveterate self-promoter, and thoroughly contradictory individual who one moment profited off the exoticism of others, the next spoke in favor of the abolishment of slavery. Includes over 500 photographs, engravings, and archival color lithographs of the man and his entire entourage. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Ray Olson
The Discovery Channel will air a TV documentary on Barnum in October, perhaps causing a boomlet in demand for the book, which, however, is readable enough and--with 525 illustrations, largely of the freaks and wonders Barnum famously exhibited--certainly visual enough to grab plenty of perusers all by itself. It tells the story of the greatest American figure in the history of show business (a term he may have coined). He started as a hoaxer, palming off an aged black woman as the 160-year-old former nurse of infant George Washington. The reputation for falsehood he acquired when this ruse was exposed stuck to him for the rest of his life but didn't slow him down at all. Indeed, perhaps the most impressive thing about Barnum was his boundless personal optimism, his faith that he could turn any setback into a means to greater success. The Kunhardts portray him proceeding from success to success, losing fortunes and houses occasionally, and ending up running his most famous venture, the circus-cum-freak-show he called and that is still known as the Greatest Show on Earth. They reveal, too, that although he pandered to the prejudices of his time, he was no callous huckster, but rather something of a velvet-gloved exploiter.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679435747
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/26/1995
Edition description:
1st ed
Pages:
368
Product dimensions:
8.34(w) x 10.34(h) x 1.16(d)

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