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Under the Big Top: A Season with the Circus Paperback – March 25, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Inspirational.” (New York Times)
“Bruce Feiler is a keen and thoughtful observer...he forces circus goers to see the familiar spectacles anew.” (New York Times Book Review)
“A colorful, sometimes unsettling, pageant of circus life.” (Entertainment Weekly)
“As irresistible as cotton candy, as attention-grabbing as the death-defying trapeze act.” (Indianapolis Star)
“A gritty, haunting story.” (People)
“Sure-handed...dark-hued...extraordinary.” (Christian Science Monitor)
“Startling...romantic...seductive.” (Denver Post)
“Spellbinding...captivating...truly touching.” (Princeton Times)
“A mud and sweat-filled, but ultimately loving portrait of the circus.” (New York Post)
“Incredible...exciting...unbelievable...” (Chattanooga Free Press)
“Writing beautifully...Bruce Feiler penetrates the heart and soul of circus life with such stark clarity.” (Douglas Brinkley, author of The Majic Bus: An American Odyssey)
“A three ring triumph...the best book ever written about the circus.” (Jim Foster, editor of The White Tops)
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Top Customer Reviews
Bruce Feiler, acclaimed author of ABRAHAM and WALKING THE BIBLE, was also fascinated. And, like the old saying goes, "he ran away with the circus." For one season Feiler traveled with the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus, recording both his experience as a writer and performing as a clown. The result is UNDER THE BIG TOP, an informative and very readable look at circus life, culture and history.
Feiler's status in the circus was unique. All the circus employees knew he was writing a book about them, but he was also allowed to travel as a performer. Thus the perspective of this book is unique, both insider and outsider. As an outsider (which on most levels, he always remains), Feiler explains the historical development of the circus and its acts, divulges the reality behind the seemingly miraculous feats of daring and discusses the circus as a business --- its marketing strategies and day-to- day operations. Here the narrative is interesting and enlightening: who knew how many phrases in American English such as "hold your horses" and "get this show on the road" originated with the circus? This view of the circus reveals the lives and talents of hard-working professionals, generations of performers and those misfits and adventurers who join the circus for various reasons, all working together to put on a grueling and dangerous show several times a day, day after day, for months on end.Read more ›
Bruce acts on his lifelong desire to be a clown (he had a previous history of theatre at Yale and of miming), and is tossed into the testosterone-fuelled world of the circus's Clown Alley, where he meets an assortment of lively characters (most with criminal records) and some sexual deviants. He quickly becomes acquainted with his circus "family": the performers (acrobats, lion tamers, human cannonball), and brings the reader along on a fascinating journey into a vanishing world (confrontations with animal rights groups become more and more frequent as the season progresses). The narrative is slightly choppy, due to the present description of action in the ring that dissolves into a past narrative, then back, but "Under the Big Top" is sure to please young-at-heart fans of the circus with its menagerie of unique personalities and talents that would be out of place in the "real world."
The most-fascinating aspect of this book is its depiction of circus life away from the bright lights. In some ways, that life is every bit as seedy as one imagines it to be; Feiler notes that, during his year, he encountered "...murder, rape, arson, bigamy, bestiality, group sex, and organized crime. If you find it in America, I found it in the circus" (page 32). In other ways, circus life is more normal than one might imagine; many of the performers raise families, celebrate holidays, and practice religion while on the road.
In addition to providing an overall portrait of carnival life, Feiler also introduces many people that you come to care about. (You learn not to call them carnies; that's the ultimate insult). Among many others, readers meet:
- Khris Allen, the new tiger tamer who is anxious to prove himself,
- Sean Thomas, the absurdly-cocky "human cannonball," and
- Buck Nolan, a 7-foot, 2-inch clown who had been with the circus for decades.
Feiler has a gift for characterization and you feel sad to leave these people behind at the end of the book.
I highly recommend Under the Big Top.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Good story and book came in excellent condition. Great way to learn all about what really goes on in the circus.Published 16 days ago by Manyblackbears
Great book of life behind the big top....close up stories of the performers and people of the traveling show. a fun quick read book.Published 1 month ago by George Johnson
This is one of the most insightful books ever written about the American tented circus.
It gives a rare peek “behind the scenes” to let readers know what’s it’s really like to... Read more
An up close and personal account of a year on the road from a townie turned clown. Glazing over the sawdust and mud, Feiler's focus on the social events makes his memoir warm and... Read morePublished on July 29, 2014 by Amazon Customer
If you love the circus this is the best book ever. It give you a behind the scenes glimpse of the circus. It holds your interest from the first till the last. Read morePublished on March 27, 2014 by Bill Sunshine
If you want to hear stories of the "Big Top", there are better choices. A generally poorly written, unsatisfying volume.Published on December 9, 2013 by Frank B. Wright
this is a good book on many levels,,,, the vanishing cirucus, the circus as a cultural phenonmenon, the circus as a vanishing way of life, the circus as a business.....read itPublished on May 20, 2013 by J. Williams
This is a fascinating and touching book that helps to inform the non-circus world about the lives of those on the show in many different capacities. Highly recommended.Published on November 23, 2012 by Liberty Corners Road
this is a nice book that tells you first hand about the "inside" of a circus.
The author participates "for real" and tells you about his experience. Read more