Humbug: The Art of P. T. Barnum Phoenix ed Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0226317526
ISBN-10: 0226317528
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Paperback, May 15, 1981
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Neil Harris is professor of history at the University of Chicago. He is the author of The Artist in American Society and Cultural Excursion, both published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; Phoenix ed edition (May 15, 1981)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226317528
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226317526
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,165,517 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Randall L. Wilson on October 12, 2014
Format: Hardcover
P.T. Barnum's work was his life. He wasn't an artist and had no spectacular talent except to be able see it in others, exploit and publicize it. He was both a subversive and Victorian, a phony and a realist, a humbug and an exposer of it. From our perspective we most want to know how he did he do it? The moralizing and actual exploits are less interesting than are his techniques which are very relevant today.

"Humbug" Neil Harris's biography of the early seventies isn't so concerned with how and more with the what. We learn that he got his start with an outright hoax, the Joice Heth affair in which he bought as an act a slave woman who claimed to have been George Washington's nurse and 161 years old. We do learn the maxim, even bad publicity is good publicity when he encouraged people to challenge her authenticity. He may have done more than encouraged it, he may have created the challenge.

He goes on to form the American Museum which was more like a circus than a Guggenheim or Smithsonian. And he ends his life with the Barnum Bailey three ring circus built upon his concept of the American museum. There was the finding and promotion of Tom Thumb, the huge and lucrative success he created for Jenny Lind the famed opera singer and for Jumbo the elephant.

One tale from the book suggests its frustration. We are told that Barnum was responsible for getting tens of thousands of people to greet Jenny Lind at her arrival in America. This attention was critical for stoking the excitement upon which her success depended. Yet we learn little about what Barnum actually did to attract such a crowd. This is important because people didn't show up simply for the love of Jenny Lind since most people didn't have a clue who she was.
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Outlaw Rose on March 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book gives a great overview of the life and times of P.T. Barnum. It doesn't go too in-depth about any particular parts of his life but does touch on just about everything he did. It's a great entry level book into the world of P.T. Barnum.
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