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Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women

4.17  ·  Rating Details ·  349 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
A cult classic and a work of remarkable scholarship, this title is an investigation into the inspired world of side shows, circuses, and singularly talented performers. Jay's unparalleled collection of books, posters, photographs, programs, broadsides, and data about unjustifiably forgotten entertainers all over the world made this unique book possible.
Paperback, 356 pages
Published November 1st 1998 by Noonday Press (first published 1986)
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Feb 01, 2008 Kay rated it really liked it
Ricky Jay is one of the world's most accomplished showmen, a world-renowned magician and sleight-of-hand artist, particularly famed for his card-throwing stunts. (He is the author of Cards as Weapons.) In this affectionate and entertaining book, Jay presents a mind-boggling array of oddball performers, everything from calculating horses to armless artists. Jay's style has a trace of the academic to it, but he wears his mantle of scholarship in a rakish manner. One can imagine a twinkle in Jay's ...more
Nov 11, 2009 Neven rated it liked it
A well-written book on a fascinating subject. While it's not Ricky Jay's fault that the sources on stories included herein are scarce and untrustworthy, it does make for a frustrating read. The catalog nature of the book means there's little depth, and often a dry breadth to the list of individuals, acts, and events presented.
A small bit of personal trivia to kick this mini-review off: I've actually had this book sitting on my shelf for a few years. Early in our relationship, my now-husband & I were both totally obsessed with the TV show Deadwood. Within a few months, we both ended up giving the other books by Ricky Jay, who was in the first season. (I gave him Jay's Journal of Anomalies; he gave me this book. We're darling, aren't we?) It wasn't until we recently watched the documentary Deceptive Practice: The M ...more
Apr 15, 2015 James rated it liked it
If there were any doubt that I am my father's son, the progressive ossification of my OCD tendencies with each passing year would definitively remove it. I've been on something of a Ricky Jay jag since viewing Deceptive Practice on American Masters a couple of weeks ago. In this instance, at least, my compulsive interest is satisfyingly fitting. Master conjuror and rare books maven Ricky Jay is an obsessive's obsessive.* I find his astonishing erudition in historical arcana from the less rep ...more
Jun 08, 2014 Kurt rated it liked it
Ricky Jay has such an established reputation as a smooth customer quick with the tossed off patter and legendary prestidigitation, that you feel like you are enjoying his book more than you are. It's a nice trick. There is value to this compendium of historical entertainment oddities. Otherwise lost to the footlight footnotes, Ricky Jay affectionately brings to renewed life those who entertained and fascinated the world mostly prior to 1900 by being mind readers, fireproof, brilliant pigs, flyin ...more
Nov 13, 2012 Linda rated it really liked it
I REALLY like this book but it wasn't amazingl I wish there were a 4 1/2 rating. Ricky Jay, apparently a well-known magician has written a book on the extremely interesting offbeat "stars" of the past vaudeville-type entertainment. His style is extremely good and very easy to read and he includes some great humor. This book was one of the bases for the book Pyg which I reviewed elsewhere. But it also deals with several armless and/or legless wonders who could paint (the armless woman, Miss Biffi ...more
Batgrl (Book Data Kept Elsewhere)
Oct 18, 2012 Batgrl (Book Data Kept Elsewhere) rated it really liked it
Shelves: pop-culture
1. Harry Kahne: The Multiple Mental Marvel
2. Procine Prophets and Pig-Faced Ladies
3. Attenuation as Art: Willard, The Man Who Grows
4. More Than the Sum of Their Parts: Matthew Buchinger, Sarah Biffin, and Other Anomalies of Nature...
5. Blind Tom
6. Max Malini: The Last of the Mountebanks
7. Datas: The Man Who Knew Too Much
8. Equine Amusements
9. Genius or Charlatan? Walford Bodie, M.D.
10. Born to a Drier Death Than Diving: Samuel Gilbert Scott and Other Daredevils
11. A Few Word
Sep 16, 2007 Michael rated it it was amazing
The best story in this great, invaluable collection of magic, carnival and curiosity stories is the one about Johnny Eck, a man with just a torso for a body who was featured in Tod Browning's cult movie Freaks. Eck's identical twin brother was recruited by a magician to be the chosen member of the audience to undergo the classic sawed-in-half-in-a-box trick. Unbeknownst to the audience, the twin was substituted onstage with a "man" comprise of Eck and a dwarf who wore a pair of pants from head t ...more
Mar 16, 2012 Ensiform rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A look at some of the freaks, wonders, curiosities and con men of the past. From mentalists like Harry Kahne to limbless marvels like Matthew Buchinger and Sarah Biffin, from water spouters to growers, from learned animals of all types to Max Petomane the farting impressionist, there’s quite a lot to wonder at.

Some of the acts get only the briefest of mentions, which left me a bit dissatisfied, more questions arising than facts presented. When Jay deigns to write a lengthier investigation, compl
Mar 16, 2014 Ken rated it liked it
I’m sorry, maybe I’m missing something here, but this book is not nearly as marvelous as everyone claims. The entertainers profiled are not nearly as odd as claimed. The guy who could produce any scrap of paper named by the audience? The guy who could maneuver a ball up a ramp while curled within? The man who stretches his body a few inches? They sound interesting, but there’s not much more to the book than is evident in the sentences you just read.

Jay seems to have done his research through adv
Sep 13, 2007 Keri rated it really liked it
A crazy anthology of weirdo stuff, collected by my current hero Ricky Jay, magic and oddity historian extraordinare.

My favorite chapters concern the Learned Pig who wowed Boston in the early 1700s with his whizbang intellect and titillating autobiography and the story of Mathew Buchinger, the armless, legless calligrapher, magician, trick bowler, mind reader and lover who became known as "THE GREATEST GERMAN LIVING" during his lifetime.

Tom Schulte
Jul 13, 2014 Tom Schulte rated it really liked it
Actor and performer Ricky Jay brings a dry wit and passionate scholarship to this overview of historical exhibition freaks, oddball performers, and unusual talents. Jay focuses on the chief talents, originators, and masters of the obscure, amazing, and even disturbing. Card-picking quadrupeds, fire eaters, memory masters, trick divers, and more populate this singular work of history which led to a TV special.
Nov 17, 2011 Katie rated it liked it
A fun read and glimpse into another time... The one drawback is brief discussion about animal cruelty in some of the acts. I'm glad the book is factual but it made me really dislike a few of the performers. Re: animal rights, amazing audiences of another time would accept this behavior as "entertainment".
Nov 23, 2012 Anne rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
This book was recommended to me by Goodreads, because I liked a book on Houdini and other illusionists. I must admit I liked the other book better then this one. It's a great catalogue of eccentric entertainers, but it's a bit dry. The flyers, pictures and other original pieces about the history of entertainment are quite interesting,
John Schwabacher
Feb 21, 2009 John Schwabacher rated it it was amazing
Ricky Jay is a famous magician and historian of magic (you may have seen him in some of David Mamet's movies).
In this book he describes some performance acts that will amaze you. It will expand your conception of what human beings are capable of.
Jul 29, 2016 FranklinTV rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
A great book - as James Randi says, the most satisfying array of oddities, marvels and novelties than has been gathered together in a blue moon - - and of course, after all the ROy & HG references, the full story of Le Petomane. Just a great read from someone who clearly respects his topics.
Rosa Berdin
Nov 26, 2007 Rosa Berdin rated it it was amazing
haven't read it yet but I love Ricky's work and he is a very nice man, very intelligent and very enthusiastic about his work. I am sure I will love this book whenever I am able to pick it up somewhere.
Jul 03, 2015 Derek rated it it was ok
I think I built up this book too much, because I couldn't get my hands on it for a few years. The subjects are extremely interesting, but I think I was expecting better writing from Ricky Jay. He speaks so wonderfully, but his writing was pretty stiff.
Jul 14, 2012 Tom rated it really liked it
An excellent history of 'eccentric' entertainers - singing mice, armless violininists and human volcanoes. Beautifully illustrated with reproductions of old publicity material, this is a must for all lovers of the strange and stupifying.
Rich Rosell
Jan 13, 2010 Rich Rosell rated it it was amazing
I'm a sucker for sideshows and cons, plus there somethings lyrically soothing about the way Ricky Jay writes about it all.

This is more a reference book than a straight read, but that didn't stop me.
Aug 29, 2012 Storyheart rated it it was amazing
I loved this book and used it to research my first novel. Where's Toby the Sapient Pig when we need him?
Elizabeth Bradley
Mar 30, 2010 Elizabeth Bradley rated it it was ok
Jay's Journal of Anomalies is better, less simplistic. When he wants to be, he's a crackerjack writer. Who knew? Plus, I can never get enough flea circuses.
Aug 29, 2009 Michael rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A fantastic collection of odd people and odder stories that you couldn't find anywhere else. If you're into magicians, entertainers, or just weird history in general, this is a great read.
Leila Elkington-Brasz
A great book that gives some history on the circus sideshow performers of the past and the lives they lived. Interesting.
Iris rated it really liked it
Jun 19, 2012
David rated it it was amazing
Jan 09, 2013
Claire rated it liked it
Aug 15, 2008
Unbeliever rated it it was amazing
Aug 14, 2016
Josephine rated it did not like it
Jul 23, 2011
Jeremie rated it it was amazing
Jun 27, 2012
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Ricky Jay (born Richard Jay Potash in 1948) is an American stage magician, actor, and writer.

Born to a Jewish-American family, Jay is considered one of the most knowledgeable and skilled sleight-of-hand experts in the United States. He is notable for his signature card tricks, card throwing, memory feats, and stage patter. At least two of his shows, Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants and On the Stem,
More about Ricky Jay...

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