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Show Boat

3.81  ·  Rating Details ·  542 Ratings  ·  63 Reviews
Edna Ferber's classic paean of love to the Mississippi River and the showboats that ran up and down it is once again available in hardcover as a facsimile of the first edition. First published in 1926, this timeless tale of the Cotton Blossom, Cap'n Andy, his shrewd wife Parthy, and their beautiful daughter Magnolia her remarkable daughter Kim was made famous on Broadway i ...more
Hardcover, Facsimile of the 1926 edition, 398 pages
Published May 1st 2007 by Gramercy (first published 1926)
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Deborah Yes, he drowns in the Mississippi in the novel, but in the (more sugary) musical version he doesn't die.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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May 13, 2009 Emily rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2009
You know that seminal story from your childhood? The one you watched/read/listened to so often that your parents were ready to bribe you out of doing so again in order to save their own sanity? For me, that story was Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's Show Boat. Specifically, a tape-recording of Show Boat that my dad dubbed for me off a library CD. I still have that tape; I listened to it so often as a kid that any articulation the bass may have had is completely worn away to a muddy "wahmmm" s ...more
Jul 24, 2008 Patty rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classics
This book took me away from a difficult childhood and helped me escape into the world of books. It was a large and involved three generation, post civil war story of a strong, rigid Parhenia Hawks whose husband wanted to purchase a showboat and involved their children in the world of theatre. She was opposed. They travelled on the "Cotton Blossom" down the mighty Mississppi. Edna Ferber is a forgotten author now, but very popular in her day.This book went on to play on Broadway. You might know h ...more
Jul 31, 2013 Martin rated it liked it
I think I love Edna Ferber’s ideas more than actually reading her novels. This is the third novel of hers that I have read (the others were “So Big” and “Cimarron”) and it seemed to take forever. I felt like I had to force myself to read a chapter a day. I love the idea of women who made our nation great, not by ambition but strength of character and rising above the dire circumstances of their marriages. I love her expansive language, put to especially grand use in the first half of “Show Boat” ...more
Suanne Laqueur
Dec 07, 2016 Suanne Laqueur rated it really liked it
Did you know that the notes in the refrain of “Cotton Blossom” are the inverted notes of the refrain of “Old Man River.” Go ahead, sing it in your head: Cot-ton Blossom……Old Man River.

See? Now good luck getting that out of your head.

We’re speaking, of course, of the musical Show Boat, which was based on the novel of the same name by Edna Ferber. I took a compilation of five of her novels out of the library, because I actually wanted to read Saratoga Trunk. But Show Boat was there and it won the
If I was going to be a river . . . I’d want to be the Mississippi . . . Because the Illinois, it’s always the same. But the Mississippi is always different. It’s like a person that you never know what they’re going to do next, and that makes them interesting.”

Having majored in English with a minor in theatre, reading Edna Ferber’s 1926 “Show Boat” tickled my fancy with nostalgic delight. And having had the pleasure of seeing Hollywood’s adaptation along with a lyrical production performed live,
Mar 20, 2011 Kathryn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011
My mother always told me that the spelling of my name came from Kathryn Grayson,
who was in the 1951 film of Show Boat. And as a child living along the Ohio River, I remember the Delta Queen stopping and giving open-air concerts from the boat. But I never saw the Kathryn Grayson movie, nor read the book, until now; and it’s a wonderful book, especially for a former river town girl to read (and review).

The book starts in the 1890′s, with the birth of Kim Ravenel on a show boat; she was given her u
Dec 02, 2009 Rachel rated it liked it
This is the book on which the perpetually-revived musical is based. The plotlines aren't really all that similar. I can easily understand why this was such a popular book in 1926. It's a sweeping story of three generations of theater folk. There's plenty of drama to go around; in a lot of ways it felt like any number of best-selling novels I've read.

The main issue for the modern reader is the racial aspects of this book. It was really ahead of it's time in its portrayal of blacks (by a white au
Jun 04, 2016 Cathy rated it liked it
For a self-professed Broadway junkie, I must confess that I knew absolutely nothing about Showboat beyond that it was a musical. Turns out it was a book first, and one with a very verbose turn of phrase. Coming off of some rather poorly written books, the SAT vocabulary of Showboat was a welcome change indeed. This is the first book in a long time where I had to actually look up word meanings. Cicerone, propinquity, aldermanic... even autocorrect is changing the words as I type. Kudos to Ferber ...more
I think most people are familiar with the musical. I'd seen the movie but I hadn't realized until I had gone to a live performance that the musical was based on an actual novel. I thought it was a story especially written for a musical. I'm not sure about the musical, but the story is a great story. It is really about the way women have found themselves trapped with men. In the previous age of Western civilization, men had all the power. They were expected to run their own lives and the members ...more
Dec 30, 2014 Megan rated it liked it
I am fascinated by Edna Ferber's work and the impact they have had on our culture. Here is the book that was the basis for the musical that changed American Theater. The central character, Magnolia, is a well crafted picture of what it meant for a woman to come into full possession of her own life.
Nov 29, 2012 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The musical was popular when I was a kid and I probably saw the movie, but don't remember for sure. However, the book is quite different from the movie/musical. Edna Ferber was popular when I was growing up and I like reading her in the same way I like reading Dorothy Canfield Fisher.
Dec 03, 2008 Currit rated it it was amazing
Unusual and very American. The characters are characters. What can I say? There is nothing predictable about this story. Somehow it captures the feeling of frontier America and the coming modern age. I'm a fan.
May 18, 2012 Cindy rated it it was amazing
I think I am going to love everything I read by Ferber. Great writing, great stories, great characters, what is there not to love?
Russell Sanders
Jan 07, 2017 Russell Sanders rated it really liked it
Edna Ferber’s Show Boat is definitely a novel written in the style of another era. It’s not a difficult read and moves along quickly unless you get bogged down in the copious description. The book is heavy on narrative and light on dialogue. But that narrative is rich indeed. Ferber’s description of the river—mostly the Mississippi—makes it a character unto itself. And when, about two-thirds in, the narrative switches to Chicago, that description is rich and evocative. The story is familiar: Cap ...more
Feb 21, 2011 Laura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Laura by: Bettie
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 08, 2016 Marty rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My wife and I have stumbled across a delightful little tradition. Each summer my we go to one of the shows in the Utah Festival Opera & Musical. Whichever one we end up going to, my wife learns the piano sheet music to one of the songs and I read the literature it was based on--mine is in an effort to maximize my smugness and unsupportable behavior as I compare book to performance throughout! (Okay, I try to limit my commentary … but the nerd in me sometimes can’t hold it back!) Last year, t ...more
saw the movie (musical); lots of liberties with plotline; not the same story as book At All; book focused more on Parthy and Magnolia's life.
Adelaide Mcginnity
An interesting look at the turn of the century riverboat life, but a book irreparably harmed by being told out of sequence. By out of sequence, I don't mean flashbacks, rather I mean that individual scenes are told out of sequence (for instance, we learn that Andy Hawkes is dead, and then, later, we go back and see how he died, a scene robbed of its punch because we already know what is about to unfold. Furthermore, I quibble with the inclusion of Kim as anything more than a minor, ancillary cha ...more
Dec 08, 2015 Sandy rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story. Edna Ferber describes people and scenes so vividly you can't help but feel you know them. She often injects subtle humor into her characterizations. The relationship between polar opposites Parthy Hawks and her husband Cap'n Andy Hawks is always amusing, and spoiled Magnolia is a truly interesting character! I like the way Ferber lets you in on Magnolia's inner thoughts and feelings. You also get a glimpse into the life and motivations of a "professional ...more
Nancy H
Aug 04, 2016 Nancy H rated it liked it
A classic of the Mid-West, this book gives readers a view of what life was like on the showboats that plied the Mississippi and other Midwestern rivers. Seen through the eyes of the Hawkes and later Ravenal families, that life was hard and often harsh. Andy and Parthenia Hawkes run their showboat, with their only daughter on board with them. (view spoiler) ...more
Jan 04, 2015 Em rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
Quite a different story to the one that MGM made of it with Howard Keel. Apart from the musical happy-ending, Ferber's story is more than a little disjointed going back and forth in time, not just from one chapter to another, but even on the same page. The worst example of it was the passage about Andy Hawks drowning. Plus I think she skipped over the most interesting parts had she but developed it, when Ravenal leaves and Nola goes back into show business to support herself and keep Kim in the ...more
K.M. Weiland
Dec 20, 2011 K.M. Weiland rated it liked it
I think there's a little of everyone's childhood in this book. The magic part at any rate. I've never lived on a showboat and have no real connection to rivers in general and the Mississippi in particular. There's really very little in the main character with which I personally relate my own history. But the nectar-sweet nostalgia of this story still pulled me in, with its portrayal of a charmed childhood and the inevitable progression into the often harsh bubble-burstings of adulthood. As a nov ...more
Jun 22, 2016 Gena rated it really liked it
this is my second Ferber novel recently. I really like her writing style. You finish her books really feeling that you understand the place, time and characters. I am familiar with the score of the Broadway "Showboat" but I don't think I was really aware of the story--and this story may not be the same anyway. The plot kept me interested. Themes that I noticed in both So Big and Showboat: mothering and mother/child relationships (although the two main character mothers are opposites), living in ...more
As other have pointed out, the book was way better than the musical, though I love the musical, especially the music.

I would like to have given 3.5 stars. It's not quite a 4 star, and it may be that I read just one too many Ferber novels in a row to appreciate this one to the fullest.

What I especially liked about this book is how funny it is. I had no idea that Showboat was funny, and I'm not talking slapstick funny. Ferber's narrator puts things very tongue-in-cheek, and though I think this kee
Gina Boyd
Jun 05, 2013 Gina Boyd rated it liked it
I had no idea this was a novel until I heard an NPR story a few weeks ago about the DC revival of the musical, where they mentioned it was based on the book. I'm not sure why I was so interested to give it a read, because I've never seen a production of the show--my only association with Show Boat up to this point was the song "Old Man River." That said, though, I'm glad the library had a copy (from 1968), and that I took the time.

The novel is kind of like a river, flowing along peacefully with
K.M. Weiland
I think there's a little of everyone's childhood in this book. The magic part at any rate. I've never lived on a showboat and have no real connection to rivers in general and the Mississippi in particular. There's really very little in the main character with which I personally relate my own history. But the nectar-sweet nostalgia of this story still pulled me in, with its portrayal of a charmed childhood and the inevitable progression into the often harsh bubble-burstings of adulthood. As a nov ...more
Jun 14, 2015 Jason rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book about the life of a woman who grew up on a showboat on the Mississippi. Because it was written in 1926, the verbiage is modern enough for anyone to understand, but different enough to still feel like a classic.

My one warning would be that if you are sensitive to racial slurs, you should not read this book. Because of the setting and time period, combined with when it was written, the author uses them often. It shouldn't catch anyone off guard considering that the subject of the book d
Andra Constantin
Sep 29, 2014 Andra Constantin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2014
An amazing story about what Show Boat life on the Mississippi river meant and how it evolved in the course of about 40 years.

The book follows the story of the Hawks family - the owners of the Cotton Blossom Floating Palace Theater - for 3 generations, allowing the reader to be part of births (of children, of boats, of crews), departures (deaths, people leaving, etc), love stories and most impressive of the yearly travel up and down the Mississippi river and all the little towns where the Floatin
Sep 07, 2016 Penny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The writer, known by many as the author of GIANT, writes a great story of adventure in riverboat days on the Mississippi River and in emerging Chicago. You realize how much the vernacular has changed from the era of publication - it was copyright 1926, and my issue was in my mother's things, a Modern Library edition of 1935 [I was unable to align this review with the proper edition]. I was looking up words like "aigrette, dolman, tonsorial, passementerie" and these had only to do with people's a ...more
Mar 08, 2016 Kay rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful tale of three generations of a family starting on the showboat and moving to Chicago and then the New York theatre. The musical based on the novel is true to the story, but the book is so much richer. It vividly portrays the life of the river showboat people and their relationships with each other and the people they meet, the gambling society in Chicago and then how society changes after the First World War.
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Edna Ferber was an American novelist, short story writer and playwright. Her novels were popular in her lifetime and included the Pulitzer Prize-winning So Big (1924), Show Boat (1926; made into the celebrated 1927 musical), Cimarron (1929; made into the 1931 film which won the Academy Award for Best Picture), and Giant (1952; made into the 1956 Hollywood movie).
Ferber was born August 15, 1885, in
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