The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2019-08-18 
Review Score: 5 out of 5 star From 12 user ratings

"Like many others will, I searched out this book after watching (and loving) The Greatest Showman, a made-up musical that clearly states its mission: the joy you'll feel watching it isn't humbug, even if you received it through a humbug version of events. (Which is kind of the point of most musicals - Thomas Jefferson isn't exactly his historical slave-raping self in Hamilton, either).

Still, I was hearing a lot of anger over the movie's positive portrayal of a racist con artist, and felt I should learn more about him. It turns out, as is normally the case, that Barnum was a complex, nuanced person - not as awesome or as terrible as the movie or certain blogs would have you believe. I realize it's difficult to accept that humans are complicated and not just categorize them as good or bad guys, but I say it's worth giving it a shot, to learn about this fascinating historical figure.

On to the book: it was more dense than I expected for a middle-grade audience, and that's a good thing. It's very well-researched and thorough. The photographs wonderfully illustrate the text. The pop-out boxes share cool facts. [I love any book that a kid could use to do a research project, since so often these days they're just sent to the internet instead of to BOOKS.]

This is a solid example of the kind of history book that both engages and educates. It does have some bias (in favor of Barnum, and the author makes assumptions about how people were feeling), but all history is biased, and as it goes, this one presents many shades of the man's character - and even presents many situations (e.g. the performers' lives) without comment for us to draw our own conclusions.

I learned MUCH about Barnum from this book, and most of it led to me having a more positive view of the man than I'd previously had based solely on Wikipedia and film reviewers (my opinion coming in was pretty dismal). A lot of his faults were emblematic of their times, and he at least seemed to TRY to be doing the right thing (by his animals, by his performers, and by his fellow humans).

I strongly recommend this book if The Greatest Showman has you curious for more info about Barnum.

" said.

" I don't often read biographies, but I enjoyed this one immensely. It is not only about P. T. Barnum, but about his museums and circus. It's not boring but very interesting, especially if you love the circus " said.

" I was amazed by this book - first in that it was easy to read, had tons of fabulous pictures, and never once did I lose interest. This is a hard mixture to attain in the world of biographies - especially for children. I'm doing to look for other books by this author. She did an amazing job - just reading her bio at the end for the amount of work she put into this makes me respect her a great deal. Definitely a book I would recommend to anyone with an interest in the circus. " said.

"This book is the story about Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum. It chronicles P.T.’s life including the rise and fall of P.T.’s extraordinary museum and later his business in the traveling circus. P.T. was a very driven and determined man who always knew he was destined for greatness. He worked very hard, oftentimes neglected his family, and was known for his great “pranks” on the public. He faced a lot of trials and tribulations throughout his life but always managed to come out on “top”. During the 21st century, some of P.T.’s exploits could be viewed as inhumane or faux-pas. But, during the time he lived, these were very accepted (i.e. putting an old black woman on display for everyone to gawk at). P.T. even tried his hand at politics but his true desire was to be a “showman”. " said.

"By all accounts (particularly his own!) Barnum was an amazing personality who led a stupendous life. Though this short biography can only graze the surface, it does a wonderful job bringing the showman to life. Even as a young man, Barnum spent a lot of time "thinking up ways to make money while avoiding work". Not that he was not hard-working, but what interested him was "headwork", not laboring in the soil. The book is very readable, with many sidebars of interesting facts, and black and white photos. Barnum's life was not a continuous rise to success; he had failures and setbacks, yet managed to overcome them, and he never stopped trying new things (he joined the circus business when he was 60 years old!). There isn't a lot of information about Barnum's family but enough that we can see he was not perhaps the best husband and father; he often left his family alone for months at a time, for example. This would be a great biography for a class assignment, and is readable enough to make a good book club choice. " said.

Photographs and pen-and-ink illustrations
Radical Change
Grades 4 and up

The subtitle, "The Tremendous Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum" perfectly describes this excellent biography that reads like an exciting story. Fascinating look at a man who was both an innovative, creative businessmen and an absent father. The book captures the museum and circus he created so vividly, it makes you feel like you were there. Fun sidebars explain things such as "Mr. Proler's Secret Recipe for Bear Grease" or "Museums Now and Then."

"What, he asked, was wrong with 'puffing up the truth'? Why couldn't he put a 'coat of varnish on the hard facts of life'? Besides, he argued, people liked to be on the receiving end of a practical joke. They liked to be 'humbugged.' By a humbug, he meant something fake that is packaged and advertised so cleverly that people think it is real. 'I don't believe in duping the public,' he further explained. 'All my humbugs are used as skyrockets. That is, they are used as advertisements to draw attraction to the museum...Anyone humbugged by me gets their money's worth.'"
" said.

"Fleming has masterfully combined the story of P.T. Barnum's colorful life (he was not always a saint!) and his ever-expanding knack for show business, weaving in the history of the 19th century to create an interesting and well-balanced look at the man and the time. Though this is meant for a young audience -- I would say it's appropriate and of interest to 4th grade and up -- the author doesn't shy away from the truth of his ambition, the neglect of his family, his alcoholism and religious redemption, and his marriage to a woman half his age. All this is told in a straight-forward manner which allows the reader to recognize his faults and still appreciate his contributions to society. The pictures and anecdotal stories make the book, however. For the small price of one book, we are admitted to the "peep show" of bearded ladies, mermaids, giants and miniature men, assorted tricks and curiosities, and - always - the elephants. For anyone who has ever been to a circus (or not!) this book is a fascinating and entertaining read. A must have for all collections! Note: there is an error on page 112 where Fleming refers to Barnum being 77 years old in 1880, when in fact he was 70. Also, it seems an oversight that she did not mention that the term "Siamese twin" became widely used when she was describing Chang and Eng, Barnum's conjoined twins from Siam." said.

"A fantasic look at the life of America's premier Showman. In clear, accessible text, Fleming begins her story just before Barnum's birth and ends just after his death. Reproductions of photographs, engravings, posters, and other images appear throughout the book, providing exactly what visitors to his museum(s) came for - a chance to see the wonders with their own eyes. Unfortunately, many of these images, particularly those of posters and engravings that feature a good amount of text, are very small and hard to read.

Fleming relates the high and low points of Barnum's life and career. Here and there, she notes practices (like the exhibition of Joice Heth) that were socially acceptable at the time, but would not be so now. More often, she lets Barnum's actions speak for themselves.

Packed with fun facts, this scrapbook-style biography will appeal to middle-grade readers and, more than likely, quite a few adults. It is a book that Barnum himself (who, as Fleming mentions, requested that his obituary run while he was alive, so he could read it in the paper!) would have enjoyed. Endnotes and a bibliography point those who interests have been piqued to further reading on Barnum and/or the circus.

Personally, I'm still wondering how the original Feejee Mermaid made it through all those fires to be displayed by Bailey in the circus.
" said.

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