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.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
"[A] fascinating, provocative history. . . . Compulsively readable. . . . Smart and impressively researched, . . . An important contribution to the literature of . . . U.S. cultural history." -- Publishers Weekly
A fascinating book. -- New York Times, March 29, 2005