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The Circus Age: Culture and Society under the American Big Top Third Printing Edition

4 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0807853993
ISBN-10: 0807853992
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The sight of trains pulling in and circus tents being set up was the highlight of the year for many American towns at the turn of the century; schools and stores closed and everyday life stood still. In 1903, 98 circuses and menageries the highest number in U.S. history traveled the nation. In this fascinating, provocative history of a democratic form of public entertainment, Davis, an American studies professor at the University of Texas at Austin, elucidates the enormous cultural impact of the railroad circus and how it became a "powerful cultural icon" and a concrete representation "of racial diversity, gender difference, bodily variety, animalized human beings, and humanized animals" as well as a "celebration of America's emerging role as a global power." Davis presents her theoretical material carefully, but the profuse illustrations of her theses make the book compulsively readable. By meticulously scrutinizing individual circus acts and exhibits e.g., "statue girls," near-naked women covered in white greasepaint to resemble art, challenged concepts of femininity; "learned pigs" questioned the concept of human intelligence; clowns and strongmen became the visible manifestations of public discussions about masculinity she shows how circuses provided a vibrant, visceral forum for the era's cultural changes. Arguing that circuses "helped catapult a 'nation of loosely connected islands' into a modern nation-state with an increasingly shared national culture," Davis traces how this continues today, in different forms, in places like Disneyland and Las Vegas. Smart and impressively researched, this is an important contribution to the literature of popular culture and U.S. cultural history. Color and b&w illus. (Sept. 23)
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

ÝA¨ fascinating, provocative history of a democratic form of public entertainment. ("Publishers Weekly")

[A] fascinating, provocative history of a democratic form of public entertainment. ("Publishers Weekly")
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; Third Printing edition (September 23, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807853992
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807853993
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #432,246 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Janet Davis' The Circus Age: Culture & Society Under The American Big Top is a very valuable book for anyone wanting to learn about the history of the American circus and the role it played in culture and society during the classic circus age back when the big circuses traversed the country by railroad and performed under canvas. Davis has done a remarkable amount of research, including finding and interviewing people whose tales about the circus give the reader real insight into what circus life was like and what the circus meant to people back when "Circus Day" was often the biggest event of the year. The book is fairly well illustrated with photographs of circus life and with the posters used to promote the various acts and spectacles the circus would bring to town.

Among the wealth of information about the circus are the author's accounts of how extremely organized circuses were, particularly in the setting up and tearing down of the circus 'city' when it came and left town, a necessity born of using the tightly scheduled trains to travel the country. The following is a good example of the useful details Davis brings out in her book:

"The 'army' of canvasmen who erected and tore down the billowing canvas tents was a crucial part of the total labor show. Audience members traveled in horse-drawn wagons over miles of bumpy dirt road in predawn darkness just to observe how circus workers (aided by horses and elephants) created a magical, moveable city on an empty lot. At the turn of the century... human and animal labor still performed virtually all the on-site jobs, before gasoline-engine stake-drivers and other motorized machines began replacing some of the human labor in 1910-1920.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
After a surprisingly interesting visit to the Ringling Museum in Sarasota I was anxious to know more about this unsung chapter of American History. This book was everything I wanted and more.

Full of well researched facts, insightful conclusions and fascinating details, it reads like a dream. If I could give it 6 stars I would! Well done Janet M. Davis.
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Format: Paperback
Davis' book is a rare scholarly exploration of the history of the American circus. She makes smart conclusions about this Amercan instituion. Her work is well documented and a pleasure to read.
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Format: Paperback
after reading "WATER FOR ELEPHANTS" I needed some circus history and this book was great. Love the pictures. This was a pleasure to read.
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I was very disappointed when I started reading this book and realized that it's a history of social change in America that incidentally uses the circus to illustrate its points. It is not primarily a history of the circus. The book is based on a scholarly sociology dissertation, and hence, it has long sections that aren't really even circus-related, such as one on orientalism and another on gender issues. The promotional materials and the book's cover are highly misleading in this regard. I stopped reading about half way through.
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