There is no denying Barnum's abiding influence, more than a century later, on our popular culture. For better and worse, we owe our irrepressible infatuation with show biz to the prodigious swarm of divas, minstrels, circuses, museums, curiosities, beauty pageants, sideshows, fat-baby and poultry contests that he unleashed, making himself one of America's first millionaires. This amply illustrated, all-encompassing biography leaves no stone unturned, no curiosity unrevealed.
From Publishers 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.
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