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American Goliath Paperback – August 15, 1998

4.5 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Jacobs's entertaining new novel (following Beautiful Soup: A Novel for the 21st Century, Celadon, 1993) is inspired by real events. The Cardiff Giant was one of the greatest hoaxes of the previous century. Discovered in October 1869 on a farm in New York, the 10' tall, 3000-lb. statue was thought by "experts" to be the petrified remains of a prehistoric man but was shortly revealed to be the brainchild of George Hull, of Binghamton, New York, who had the Giant carved by stonemasons in Chicago. Thousands paid to look at the giant, which excited the envy even of P.T. Barnum. Jacobs juggles a large cast of both real (e.g., Tom Thumb, Cornelius Vanderbilt) and fictional characters, all of whom find their lives changed by their involvement with the Cardiff Giant. This is a very funny, rambunctiously raunchy novel that, at the same time, makes pointed comments about American attitudes during the last half of the 19th century. The relative dearth of recent humorous fiction should make this novel welcomed by most public library patrons.?Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

A fascinating picaresque novel, set in postCivil War America, by the underrated comic surrealist whose previous fiction includes The Egg of the Glak (1969). First things first: This is a masterpiece. It's the story, based on fact, of a hoax perpetrated in 1869 by one George Hull, black-sheep son of a Binghamton, New York, cigar-making family, who, upon hearing an overzealous preacher's assertion that the biblical ``Giants in those days'' may have existed in America, hires sculptors to construct a huge simulated human figure, buries it on his cousin's Cardiff, New York, farm, and arranges for the ``discovery'' of what will thereafter be known (and widely advertised as) ``the Cardiff Giant.'' Among those who scramble for a piece of the giant, and the action, are plutocrat Cornelius Vanderbilt, showman extraordinaire P.T. Barnum (who harbors presidential ambitions), actor Edwin Booth, scheming boxing promoters who exhibit ``Battling Mammoths,'' journalist Barnaby Race (who seeks both the truth and a good story), and a less-than- heavenly host of clergy, grifters, and dupes who display several highly amusing varieties of mass hysteria. The novel is a poker- faced paean to American enterprise, hucksterism, and criminality, energized by Jacobs's easy mastery of period detail and rhetoric (he even contrives a marvelously florid verse attributed to an impressionable poet who visits ``the giant's'' remains). And, in a spectacular magic-realist twist, Jacobs presents (in italicized interpolated fragments of dialogue) what seem to be the thoughts of the nonexistent giant--``created,'' perhaps, by George Hull's greed and by his country's hunger to believe in such marvels. P.T. Barnum sums up George Hull's nefarious accomplishment beautifully: ``What you did was a wonder and a legend for the ages. A beautiful scam and splendidly wrought.'' The same may be said of Harvey Jacobs's stunningly inventive and charming fiction--arguably this year's best novel. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1st edition (August 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312194382
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312194383
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,461,311 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Publisher's Weekly called this novel "arguably the year's best". It is a teriffic read about an amazing event in American history in the days when people could actuaolly laugh when they were scammed with grace! It's now available as an e-book.
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Format: Hardcover
The royal monster mavens, Mary Shelley, who created Frankenstein's monster, and Rabbi Judah Low ben Bezulel, who popularized the Golem (a monster out of Jewish mythology) now have a crown prince to share their throne room - Harvey Jacobs, author of the wholly absorbing, outrageously funny novel, "American Goliath."
What a farce this is to get lost in! It is based on a true event: the faked discovery in 1869 of a 10-foot stone statue of a man buried on a farm near Cardiff, NY. The entire hoax - from sculpting the statue through burying and uncovering it - was cleverly staged. The statue was claimed by its fake discoverers to be the petrified remains of a giant who lived when giants walked the earth, particularly on the land that became the United States.
The Cardiff Giant, often called Goliath, became renowned all over an America desperate for diversion from the agonized memories of the recent Civil War. The giant was viewed by thousands of paying Ameicans for reasons that varied from simple curiosity to anticipation of a religious experience. Goliath is still with us, big as ever in his permanent home in the Farmer's Museum, Cooperstown, NY.
The flimflam artists who conceived Goliath and established him in American history found their modern mythologizer in Harvey Jacobs. In "American Goliath," as in his dazzling previous novel, "Beautiful Soup," Jacobs reveals superb writing qualifications for telling the story of the Cardiff Giant and for contributing inspiring flimflam of his own.
Each of the monsters of literature has his own personality. Frankenstein's monster, for instance, is both violent and pathetic. The Golem exhibits terrifying power.
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Format: Paperback
The absolutely true story of the greatest hoax of the 19th century is given a charming retelling here. Problem: the author smirks early and often at his characters and at the credulous America that yearns to be fooled into believing in something. None of the characters is all that deeply drawn; each one bumbles through the story as best he can but without moving the reader all that much. Angelica's widowed plight, Loretta's promiscuity, George Hull's burning ambition to avoid disappointing his father, Herbert Black Paw's rage at the white God: these characters don't explore extremes of high or low, all are figures of fun to be pointed at. Yet the book never quite rollicks either. There are a few lurid incidents: frenzied sexual encounters with the celebrated midget General Tom Thumb; fatal elephant mishaps; and my favorite loon in a book full of loons is Salle, the mad sculptor kept in a cage by his former student. But these twists are neither inevitable enough to elicit the nod of recognition nor unexpected enough to drop jaws. It is as if the author were writing for an audience of stone giants who smile and shrug at puny mortals and their fleeting concerns. That said, the book is by far the most readable and funny and fast-moving of all the books in the "Ragtime"/"Banished Children of Eve" canon of sprawling Americana. Certainly worth a read.
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Format: Paperback
It took awhile, but I finished Harvey Jacobs' 1997 novel "American Goliath", about the infamous Cardiff Giant hoax of the post-Civil War period. Was the Giant one of those who roamed the Earth, per Genesis, or an elaborate hoax? We know the answer, but Jacobs keeps the populace of the time guessing, and imaginatively. He allows the Giant a "speaking" voice to keep us up with "his thoughts" on the developing story. P.T. Barnum and General Tom Thumb play major roles. The dialogue among Barnum, Thumb and primary hoaxist George Hull crackles in a Runyanesque way. Jacobs also knows how to stage a blockbuster, particularly in a climactic Barnum-staged battle. You'll also learn a good bit about the cigar business, both its growth and demise.

I grew up in Central NY State, where most of the story was set. The familiar place names helped me enjoy the book even more. I must have seen the Giant in its final resting place at the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown as a child, but I don't have a specific memory of it.

Five stars for fans of 19th century US history. Fans of Kevin Baker's writing (Dreamland, Paradise Alley (P.S.) will also find some parallel delights in American Goliath.
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