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Barnum: An American Life Hardcover – August 6, 2019

4.4 out of 5 stars 75 ratings

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Editorial Reviews


“Robert Wilson’s Barnum, the first full-dress biography in 20 years, eschews clichés for a more nuanced story…Mr. Wilson’s book shows how one complicated, contradictory, morally ambiguous man struggled to improve himself while being single-mindedly determined to give delight to millions. It is a life for our times, and the biography Barnum deserves.”
Wall Street Journal

“Exhaustive in scope and upbeat in tone…the book’s message is clear: Barnum was a self-made man in the American grain.”
New York Times Book Review

“Better than anyone who’d come before, the Prince of Humbugs understood that the public was willing—even eager—to be conned, provided there was enough entertainment to be had in the process. That theory of Barnum’s genius makes Wilson’s book peculiarly relevant.”
The New Yorker 

“A real show stopper of a biography…Barnum is an excellent biography of a difficult subject — Wilson makes a convincing case that the legendary showman’s many faults should be considered in tandem with his accomplishments, which changed the course of American entertainment forever. [Barnum] was also a fascinating public figure, and Wilson’s book is the thoughtful biography that he’s long deserved.”

“Wilson brings Barnum alive on the page…[A] brisk, laudatory biography.”
Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Barnum: An American Life, an engaging, insightful, and richly researched new biography by American Scholar editor Robert Wilson, chronicles Barnum’s rarely-a-dull-moment life with an ebullience and vigor that matches its subject.”
New York Journal of Books

“Barnum was a complex public figure, a character begging for deep examination, and Wilson presents a true timeline of Barnum as a thinker, a believer, a businessman, and a family man. We see his opinions change, we see him learn from his mistakes, and we see him experience victory and defeat over and over…With Wilson at the wheel, a road trip through well-trod history becomes a truly remarkable ride.”
—Seattle Book Review

“[An] impressive biography of the infamous nineteenth-century showman…[Barnum] is here, in the pages of this thoughtful, deeply researched and revealing book. Barnum: An American Life often reads less like history and more like a cautionary tale for our times.”
Chicago Review of Books

“An admirable, well-written, eminently readable biography of the great showman. Robert Wilson’s research is prodigious, his writing deliciously sly. This is an estimable work.”
—A.H. Saxon, author of P. T. Barnum: The Legend and the Man

“In this impressive biography, Robert Wilson gives readers the real Phineas Taylor Barnum, sweetening this already entertaining book with brilliantly presented facts that far surpass anything previously imagined about his colorful, controversial subject.”
—Jeff Guinn, author of Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson and The Vagabonds: The Story of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison's Ten-Year Road Trip

About the Author

Robert Wilson has been an award-winning editor at Preservation, Civilization, and The American Scholar, which he has edited since 2004. He writes often for magazines and newspapers and was on staff at USA Today and The Washington Post. The author of biographies of Mathew Brady, Clarence King, and P.T. Barnum, he lives in Manassas, Virginia.

Product details

  • Item Weight : 1.35 pounds
  • Hardcover : 352 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1501118625
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1501118623
  • Publisher : Simon & Schuster (August 6, 2019)
  • Product Dimensions : 6.25 x 1.1 x 9.25 inches
  • Language: : English
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.4 out of 5 stars 75 ratings