Danna's Reviews > The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum

The Great and Only Barnum by Candace Fleming
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Jan 08, 11

Read in February, 2010

I thoroughly enjoyed this quick, entertaining read. It was incredible to learn P.T. Barnum's history, from growing up with a prankster grandfather through his opening of the American Museum, tours of Europe with Tom Thumb, and his grand finale of the Greatest Show on Earth. Barnum raked in the dough fooling America's citizens and seemed to enjoy every minute of it - as did the citizens! No one seemed to mind his "humbuggery" a bit. One of the facts I found most interesting was, during the beginning of the circus, the SPCA filed claim against Barnum for abuse of animals. Barnum, aghast, countered the gentleman head-on, to prove that contrary to popular belief, the animals were loved and cared for as best as possible. In fact, many zoologists and caretakers of exotic animals contacted Barnum for the best way to take care of these beasts! Barnum, in his quest to convince the SPCA of his altruistic mission, proved himself. He became close friends with the crusader, and eventually came to sit on the board himself donating large sums of money to the organization in order to help care for animals that were mistreated. I don't know how well the treatment of circus animals has been kept up, but it is certainly a fascinating tidbit considering the crowds of protesters outside many performances of the Circus today!
We can thank Barnum for today's paparazzi-craze: his introduction of Swedish singer Lind to the US brought on the first media frenzy over celebrity (which he created single-handed by paying the reporters!). Her name was the first ever whose celebrity status was used to endorse products and services.
Overall, this book was fun, with great facts about the many performers, the historical background of show business, and the different means of public media. It's only about 140 pages of large print with photos, so it would also make an excellent coffee table book. If you're into entertaining, light nonfiction, I definitely recommend.
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