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The Ordinary Acrobat: A Journey Into the Wondrous World of Circus, Past and Present Paperback – November 5, 2013
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“Lovely. . . . There is plenty in The Ordinary Acrobat to set circusphile and circus-skeptic alike to dreaming.”
—The Washington Post
“Meticulously researched, intensely reported and brightly written. . . . An entertaining, artistic several-hour act that leaves indelible impressions.”
—The Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A fascinating, funny, effervescent story told with great affection. The Ordinary Acrobat is an incandescent odyssey—personally and historically—into the captivating transnational world of the circus.”
—Janet M. Davis, author of Circus Age: Culture and Society Under the American Big Top
“Lively and wide-ranging. . . . Wall’s eye for anecdote, in both past and present, is sharp.”
—The Seattle Times
“Wall’s technical descriptions of what happens on a trapeze, or even of how a somersault is turned, make you look afresh at what had previously seemed obvious. And that may be the greatest trick of all.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Wall is a charming guide. . . . His appreciation of the circus is deepened by his understanding of its long and distinct history.”
—The New Republic
“Blending cultural history with biography, memoir and travelogue, Wall’s carefully balanced book is, in itself, a successful tightrope traverse.”
“If ever you have the urge to run away and join the circus, you can save yourself the trip and still have the thrill of it all by reading The Ordinary Acrobat. Duncan Wall’s adventures as a novitiate in a Parisian circus school are wonderfully entertaining. A beautifully written account of life past and present under the big top.”
—Eric Lax, author of Woody Allen: A Biography
“Wall [does] an admirable job of pursuing the circus’s road-show mysteries and endlessly winding paths. . . . It isn’t a conventional memoir, but the circus isn’t a conventional subject, either.”
“An exquisite exposition. . . . Proving himself even more adroit verbally than physically, Wall offers a revelatory love letter to the simultaneously ancient and contemporary art of acrobatics, the circus, and its denizens.”
“In this enchanting memoir sprinkled with historical anecdotes, Wall pulls the reader into the world of circus, past and present. . . . His captivating journey of discovery may lead others to consider running away to join one.”
“Wall is intoxicated and obsessed with the circus. . . . It’s infectious.”
Top Customer Reviews
We most often think of the circus being comprised of generational participants with fine tuned skills that are practiced from a very young age. It's described as a way of life and a tradition passed down in families. So when it came to The Ordinary Acrobat, I was expecting the unique view of an "outsider" who jumps into this world. I did expect more of that view than the utter volume of facts however, if you take in mind that the author then goes on teach circus history then you will know better what to expect here. Having read the novel "The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb" which is a bit of historical fiction, I was familiar with some of the facts beforehand. I have read a few other fictional stories of the circus or travelling shows before that give you the feel but without the history lesson. Duncan Wall brings the two together because the information he discovers is told along with his fascination on the subject. We watch his interest in circus history grow and the telling for me was so moving, I could feel how enchanted and fascinated he was to discover more.Read more ›
"You must be here for the tour!"
I looked up. Chantal, a small, pert woman in casual Friday attire, stood on the other side of the turnstiles. Her hands were open in a gesture of generosity.
"Welcome to Cirque!" She was smiling.
I beamed back. "It's great to be here!"
And away we went.
**** So now, reader, you are excited, right? The tour is about to begin. But no. Here is how the book continues instead.
IN THE HOLLYWOOD VERSION of the modern circus story, the birth of Soleil in 1984 is often considered the moment when the circus as an art form rushes headlong into modernity . . .
You'll be less disappointed if you know what you're getting into. The story is still worth picking up. Hope this helped.
One of those narratives would be impressive enough and to combine them both so well is a strong achievement.
For the right audience - performers, those with an interest in creative performance, or those who have relationships with performers - I think this would easily be a five-star book. I think anyone with a connection to creative, physical performance could appreciate the history first, but even more Wall's accounts of the demands and amazing effort required of the participants. For instance, I'd never looked at 'juggling' with any sort of the fine-tuned attention that Wall gives it here. A performer could point to examples and say, "see, this is what I'm doing. Get it?" or a family member could understand, "wait, this is what he had to learn to do?"
Overall, I liked it - for me, without as direct a 'performer' connection, it sometimes provided too much information for my interest level and my attention to the details tailed off. At parts I was completely engaged, and at other times simply less connected with the subject matter.
That's just me as an audience of one, though, and is no criticism of the amazing amount of research that Wall has provided. I think any fan of history will find something to appreciate - some audiences will simply engage differently than others.
This is an aspect of American (and cultural) history that I think it's fair to say is often overlooked.Read more ›
While reading this book, I never really connected with the author's journey and felt like the history wasn't as engaging because of this. I also hoped for more illustrations or photographs.
I will say that this book did provide an interesting account of the modern day circus, and that was probably my favorite part of the volume as I have not read any books or magazine articles focused on the topic in such a detailed way. Unfortunately, this doesn't quite make up for the drier tone in the remainder of the book.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
If you want to know all about circus history, this will be a great book for you. If not, then you aren't going to be a fan. Read morePublished 15 months ago by T Austin
Why do I love this book? Why have I sent copies to 7 different young people I know who are professional circus artists? Because of PERSPECTIVE. Read morePublished 16 months ago by MagnoliaBloom
...you'll like The Ordinary Acrobat. I will admit that I recently became interested with circus arts, but I also loved food and cooking when I read Kitchen Confidential. Read morePublished 19 months ago by RJF in Illinois
I really liked this book. The author manages to blend history, anecdote and a charming self deprecation into a really easy read.Published 19 months ago by Josh Vogel
As others have written, I found the sections where the author is learning the various skills of performing mostfascinating. Read morePublished 21 months ago by Desert Rat
The remarkable thing about Duncan Wall’s circus memoir/history “The Ordinary Acrobat” is how deftly it marries the personal and the global, the macro and micro. Read morePublished on March 14, 2014 by Bradley Weismann
I found this book very well written. It reads more like an historical novel than a non fiction. Highly recommend.Published on January 28, 2014 by B. Wagner
What an entertaining read! Well written, fascinating history, first person experiences - the chapter on being on the trapeze is worth the price of the whole book, lots of circus... Read morePublished on November 4, 2013 by Katy Bejarano
Wall's book is a fine mix of slice of life and history, showing how the circus is and how it was. A nice sourcebook for learning to love the circus... IT'S ALL ON THE INSIDE!Published on September 23, 2013 by E. J. Ford