The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno
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The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno

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3.15 of 5 stars 3.15  ·  rating details  ·  585 ratings  ·  171 reviews
Water for Elephants meets Geek Love in this riveting first novel, an enchanting love story set in P. T. Barnum's American Museum in 1865 New York City

Bartholomew Fortuno, the World's Thinnest Man, believes that his unusual body is a gift. Hired by none other than P. T. Barnum to work at his spectacular American Museum—a modern marvel of macabre displays, breathtaking thea...more
Hardcover, 331 pages
Published June 22nd 2010 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published 2010)
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The Night Circus by Erin MorgensternWater for Elephants by Sara GruenGeek Love by Katherine DunnSomething Wicked This Way Comes by Ray BradburyThe Carnivorous Carnival by Lemony Snicket
Circus/Carnival Books
38th out of 208 books — 537 voters
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Best Circus, Sideshow and Museum Books
13th out of 21 books — 3 voters


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Community Reviews

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Barb
I'm sorry, but as always I'm going to be honest about my reading experience. Someone who has different taste from mine might just love this novel. Unfortunately I did not.

I didn't find the writing particularly good, the story was not very interesting, the characters lacked development and overall I thought this novel was rather tedious. There are revelations at the end of the novel that give the end some interest. But after reading over two hundred pages of uninspired dialog, intrigue that wasn...more
R.G. Evans
Ellen Bryson obviously did exhaustive research preparing to write this novel set in 1865 amid the Curiosities of P.T. Barnum's American Museum. The details of Reconstruction-era Manhattan are richly, if heavy-handedly, conveyed, and the combination of invented and historical characters (such as Barnum himself and the photographer Matthew Brady) makes for a very vividly told story.

One obstacle to my enjoyment of this novel, though, was the effete, overly mannered narration of its title character,...more
Katie
This book started out well. It has a very interesting premise - the thinnest man in the world becomes embroiled in intrigue while working at P.T. Barnum's American Museum in NY. Unfortunately, the book can't hold up under Bryson's weak writing skills. To her credit, she has done an enormous amount of research but, like many new writers, she feels like she has to blatantly wave it in front of us to show she has done it. The same goes for the story: she is continually stating things that we, the i...more
Blodeuedd Finland
I have mentioned that I like books that are a little strange, out of the ordinary. Here there is no magic or things like that. But the characters in this book, it is those that are out of the ordinary.



Bartholomew (let's just call him Bart cos I will never be able to spell that) lives in New York and is apart of P.T Barnum's museum. He sits in a room or he is on stage showing how freakishly thin he is. People come to marvel at him and be disgusted. He has his friends among fellow "freaks" but one...more
Audrey
Let me just start off by saying "Go Ellen Bryson!" With "the Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno" she has created an easily readable, easily enjoyable story that touches on the one thing from which, at some point in time, all humans have suffered: the feeling of being an outcast. And she has done it well. This book, though it be a first novel, makes it obvious that, when it comes to writing Bryson knows her stuff. I had almost forgotten how pleasant it can be to read a genuinely well-written b...more
Stephanie D.
In The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson, the human oddities of P.T. Barnum's Museum hold two opposing perspectives on their uniqueness: either that they are gifted or that they are monstrous.

"Man needs a bit of mystery to remind him that the world still holds miraculous things. Unclassifiable wonders. And if scientists simply shove us somewhere in the grander scheme of things, the magic disappears."

"I do not believe we educate our audiences. I believe we frighten them and in
...more
Chelsea
When we first meet Bartholomew Fortuno, he is looking down at a mysterious new arrival to the Barnum's American Museum. Nobody knows who she is or where she comes from, but Barnum is going to great lengths to hide her presence until it is time for her debut. When it comes, it shakes up many of the lives within the Museum, for the new woman is Iell, a beautiful bearded lady. No stranger to curiosities of nature (Bartholomew is the World's Thinnest Man) he takes instantly to the exotic allure of I...more
Melissa
This book had me interested in what was going on right up to the end of the book. The main character and narrator, Bartholomew Fortuno believes that his extreme thinness as a gift, one that elevates him above the masses of "normal" people. His sense of who he is and how he has become so thin is a sense of pride for Bartholomew and it is reinforced by the reactions of the audience. When he meets another fellow performer, a new act in Barnum's museum, he finds his world changing. He starts to ques...more
Alayne Bushey
This is the first DNF (did not finish) review I've ever written. I started The Transformation of Batholomew Fortuno last week, read about thirty pages and felt fairly underwhelmed. I hoped it would get better, the synopsis is unique and creative. But thirty more pages left me wallowing, completely unhooked.

Bartholomew Fortuno narrates our story which takes place in 1865, just after Lincoln's assasination. Bartholomew is the world's thinnest man and one of the most special exhibits at P.T. Barnum...more
Nicola Mansfield
Reason for Reading: I'm a fan of the time period and as macabre as it sounds, old-time circus "freak" shows.

Set in 1865, the year that Lincoln was killed, New York, this story takes place in The American Museum an establishment of Oddities and Curiosities run by one Phineas Taylor Barnum (P.T. Barnum). It was here on the fourth floor that his Curiosities lived: the fat lady, the giantess, the strong man, the conehead, the rubberman and Bartholomew Fortuno, the World's Skinniest Man. Late one nig...more
Jane
Where I got the book: from my local library.

This is one of the most unusual and compelling historical novels I've read in a long time. I don't want to say much about the story, because this is definitely one of those novels where you want to start off knowing as little as possible, and then discover each little detail with a sense of delight.

The setting is P.T. Barnum's American Museum in New York, in the mid-1860s. The protagonist is Bartholomew Fortuno, billed as the World's Thinnest Man, and...more
Ursula
I was excited when this book arrived through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program because the information with it compared it to Geek Love and Water for Elephants. I loved both of those books.

At first, I was going along with the buildup - Bartholomew Fortuno is the world's skinniest man, and he considers his thinness to be his "gift." He works at Barnum's American Museum, has a platonic love affair with Matina, the fat lady, and varying levels of conflict with some of the other performers and s...more
Nikki
I picked this up because I was told this was a lot like 'Water for Elephants', a book I really enjoyed. The only similarity between the two though, is that they both center around people who are 'freaks' or who are involved with them. While 'Water for Elephants' was engrossing and the characters were so well developed that you really identified with them, 'Bartholomew Fortuno' is endlessly tedious and features a cast of sadly underdeveloped personalities. Absolutely nothing happens, at all. This...more
Blake Fraina
This isn’t the sort of novel I normally read. It’s a real period piece, traditional and romantic, with a large cast of old-fashioned, rather courtly characters. Of course, they are a bunch of circus freaks, but really that’s just a minor detail. You see, the story is about identity and how we define ourselves. How much of what we are is chosen by us, however unwittingly, and how much is truly intrinsic and inescapable.

This is a fictionalized account of the lives of the show people who lived in...more
Keith
The setting for this fictional account is based on historical fact. P.T. Barnum, America’s most famous showman, self-promoter and hoaxer did indeed own and run a spectacular museum of macabre exhibits and performances by what he called: “a cast of freaks and oddities”. Bartholomew Fortuno as “the world’s skinniest man” is part of Barnum’s theatrical events and this story of his experient relationship with the other members of the company such as Matina, the Fat Lady, Ricardo the Rubber Man and s...more
Jen at Reading Lark
This caught my eye as the blurb said that fans of Water for Elephants would enjoy it. I'd say that is taking things a little far though. True, it is about a museum of curiosities in the 1860s, so it's a little like the travelling menagerie of WFE, but the similarities stop there.

The writing was ok, but not magical. The story is of Bartholomew Fortuno, billed as the world's thinnest man; a skeleton man. He lives a sheltered life under the illusion that he is able to enlighten the masses about the...more
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

An engaging literary hybrid -- partly a historical melodrama, partly a Victorian thriller with lightly steampunkish touches -- Ellen Bryson's debut novel The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno takes place within the real world of P.T. Barnum's American Museum, the bizarre space in lower Manhattan in the...more
Eve
Like many other reviewers, I was excited about this book after seeing the comparisons made to Geek Love (one of my all-time favorite novels) and Water for Elephants. The blurb on the back cover from Cathy Day (author of The Circus in Winter --- an incredible book) didn't hurt either. Unfortunately, I found it a bit of a chore to get through, which is surprising given the premise. The book is thin on plot (no pun intended I swear), which would be fine if it made up for it in character development...more
Silvia
The book structure is subtly twisted in several directions, all very intriguing to follow (and all resolved at the end). All the characters, and not just the Bartholomew of the title, have their own path to their next step in life, and even the minor characters are sketched with a delicate touch of chiaroscuro: their 'freak' character is subtly matched with untold but shown traits, making them fully rounded.

The research and setting of the books are fascinating, especially if like me you're a dev...more
Mary (BookHounds)
This has to be one of the best novels I have read this year. After a slow start, I fell in love with all of the characters which are based on the freaks and geeks of the circus and somewhat on fact. Bartholomew, who is billed as the thinnest man on earth has his world come apart when he meets the bearded lady. This turns out to be a love triangle in some sense. The story is really one of acceptance of yourself and others. This is one moments that just shocked me, but it made the story really mak...more
Cathe Olson
This story centers around the "curiosities" in P.T. Barnum's museum. The main character, Bartholomew Fortuno, is the "world's thinnest man." As the story begins, life at the museum is being shaken up by a mysterious new act which sets upsets the delicate balance of the performers and sets changes in motion so that Bartholomew's world, and in fact Bartholomew himself, will not be the same again.

While I thought the writing was good, I found the book somewhat boring. I think it unfortunate that it...more
Brian
I have to admit, I was ready to give up on this book. I'm not a fan of historical fiction. And when I read this book took place in the late 1800's, I wanted to give up. But I stuck it out, and am so glad I did. Bartholomew is the world's thinnest man. He is employed by the legendary PT Barnum and works for a museum of odd folk. HIs best friend is Matina, the world's heaviest woman. Other memorable characters include tall woman Emma, Alley, the world's strongest man, and of course, Iell, who is t...more
Lisa
I've been a big fan of circus/freak novels since I read the ultimate freak masterpiece, Geek Love by Katherine Dunn oh so many years ago. I was infatuated at the mere IDEA of Bartholomew Fortuno before I'd even read a page. My hopes high I launched eagerly into this circus novel set in New York City during the time of Lincoln's assassination. With an author educated in English at Columbia and Creative Writing at John Hopkins I expected lyrical, eloquent prose,and interesting, accurate history. U...more
Amanda
Bryson’s The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno does indeed, as some previous reviewers have pointed out, move slower than the glossy airport paperbacks of the likes of John Grisham and Stephen King (well, maybe not the tomes of Stephen King). However, for those who enjoy a thorough and well-developed novel, there is plenty of plot to go around.[return][return]We meet Bartholomew Fortuno, an oddity hired to display himself in P.T. Barnum’s American Museum. What is most fascinating, to me, is...more
Terri
I remembered when I started reading Water for Elephants that the absolute last thing I thought I would want to read about was a circus. Water for Elephants proved me wrong. It was a fantastic book so when The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno came along I thought I should give it a go. The characters although freakish were boring. Their thoughts, words and actions were facile. The story began well enough but then just rambled on to its ho hum ending.

Having worked his way up in the freak show...more
Somer
Disappointing book overall. The lead character was difficult to like, and the big secret at the end was kind of a cop out. Also, the ending was very tidy. Wish she had focused more on the setting (NYC right after the Lincoln assassination). Sprinkling the plot with historical tidbits didn't really work - there was no connection between the characters and their time. This story had a lot of potential - but the pieces just didn't come together.
Angie Never
It was such a relief to read a good circus book again. I've been reading a lot of vampire/werewolf stories, and they're fine, but this is the kind of book I really love. A thin man falls in love with a bearded lady? A fat lady runs away with a strong man? You had me from page one.
Joanne
This was such a fascinating novel that brought us behind the scenes of a museum that showcased odd specimens and performers that were likely also viewed as sideshows at circuses. I think that Ellen Bryson did some excellent research for this novel because P.T. Barnum did own such a museum full of eccentric performers, and to also throw into the mix how all were affected by the assassination of President Lincoln just kept me reading more.

Although the story is narrated by Barthaolomew Fortuno, the...more
Amy
I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.


There seems to have been a fascination with circuses and sideshows in recent years with such books as GEEK LOVE and WATER FOR ELEPHANTS. THE TRANSFORMATION OF BARTHOLOMEW FORTUNO provides a new addition to this genre. The book follows the life of human curiosity Bartholomew Fortuno who is billed as the world's thinnest man. Fortuno has made a life for himself as an exhibit in PT Barnum's museum. Fortuno and his fellow curiosities seem ha...more
Mishel Zabala
THE TRANSFORMATION OF BARTHOLOMEW FORTUNO was a very enjoyable read for me. I haven’t read many historic novels as of yet so it was exciting to find a book set in the past that I had no problem with reading. It’s 1865 in New York right around the time President Lincoln was assassinated. The story takes place in P.T. Barnum’s American Museum that housed some of the world’s most famous oddities and curiosities. Bartholomew Fortuno is the world’s thinnest man and has had a very successful career sh...more
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“Our uniqueness alone is enough to justify our special place in the world. But even more, our destiny insists we use our gifts to show others who they really are or show them what, in an ideal world, they could become. It may shock them at first, but deep down, we open their eyes to greater possibilities.” 7 likes
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