Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Great and Only Barnum Review

Book talk: Come one, come all and learn about the extraordinary life of P.T. Barnum and the stupendous history of his American Museum and the Barnum and Bailey Circus.  Barnum was famous for many attractions: 25 in. tall Tom Thumb, 7 ft. 11 in. tall Anna Swan, the first public aquarium complete with a beluga whale, Zazel the human cannonball, Salamander the fire horse, and an 11 and a 1/2 ft. tall elephant named Jumbo to name a few.  But perhaps the biggest attraction was P.T. Barnum himself.  He built his fortune out of nothing only to go banrkrupt and build it again.  He made the famous American Museum, watched it burn down, and built it again only to have it catch fire once more.  He then entered the circus business at age sixty where he invented the three ring circus layout.  P.T. Barnum was a showman above all else, and his life was one great show.

Rocks my socks:  This book is chock full of interesting information and anecdotes.  Did you know that it was actually one of P.T. Barnum's rivals who said "There's a sucker born every minute"? Or that P.T. Barnum  was an animal lover who not only was consulted by zoos at the time as to the proper care of exotic animals and donated specimens that can still be found in the Smithsonian Institution, Yale's Peabody Museum, and Harvard's Museum of Comparative Study he was also an active member of the SPCA and friends with its first president, Henry Bergh? The sheer tenacity of the man surviving bankruptcy, his museum burning down twice, and his house burning down only to enter the circus business at age 60 is admirable as well.  By getting a firmer understanding of what entertained people of his era I also gained a firmer understanding of what exactly life in that era was like.  Every page seemed to contain an amusing tidbit--much like the museum he built his fame and fortune on.  My favorite anecdote from the book is that of ivy island, but I don't want to give it away--you'll have to read it for yourself!

Rocks in my socks: The book made ample use of information set off in textboxes separate from the rest of the text. Not only am I not a big fan of this device because I feel it interrupts the flow of the narrative,  but even if I did like that layout I would feel that it was over-used by this book.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to anyone with an interest in life in the 1800s or entertainment, especially of the circus and sideshow variety.  There's a lot of things that children will find interesting in this book and it's packed full of photographs as well so it's sure to be appealing. I'd say 5th grade and up.

The Great and Only Barnum by Candace Fleming

Buy it at your local independent book store or check it out from your local library

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