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

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  903 ratings  ·  232 reviews
Discover the true story of P.T. Barnum, the man who created the world-famous Barnum & Bailey Circus, as featured in the movie The Greatest Showman!

The award-winning author of The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary, Amelia Lost, and Our Eleanor brings us the larger-than-life biography of showman P. T. Barnum. Known far and wide for his jumbo elephants, midg
Hardcover, First Edition, 151 pages
Published September 8th 2009 by Schwartz & Wade Books
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3.90  · 
Rating details
 ·  903 ratings  ·  232 reviews

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Sep 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
I am not a fan of PT Barnum which is heresy when you’ve lived in Bridgeport, CT.

I understand my sensibilities about the commercialization of the unfortunates and his out and out frauds (George Washington’s nanny for one) are "modern" and that the times were different. I understand that he provided work for many that others would not in an era with no safety net programs. He was a far sighted entrepreneur, bouncing back after losses to build the iconic American Circus; he even built his own rail
Interesting how people’s fascination with shams and the absurd continues even today. I believe Barnum would have had a field day producing reality TV shows.
Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
I loved this book! What a fascinating person Barnum was! Felt sorry for his wife, though, who looks sooo depressed in the photo on page 76. It's a darn shame that his two museums burned down. Fleming makes you feel as if you're touring through his first museum in chapter 4, proceeding from the entrance into each "saloon," as he called his exhibit rooms, and the theatre ("moral lecture hall") and finally out onto the street. Barnum was a master selling things and ideas to people, even when it was ...more
Jessika Santulli
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
“Love God and be merry.”
—P.T. Barnum’s motto which he had painted on the wall of his home

I read this after seeing the musical The Greatest Showman which left me hungry for all things Barnum. Reading about the showman’s actual life was almost as exciting as the wonderful film. I could not put this book down! I had things to do but it didn’t matter; I kept right on reading.

Barnum was not a perfect person, but he was exceptional in many areas: business, showmanship, vision, imagination. Reading ab
Dec 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great biography of PT Barnum. It was a well documented account of a very interesting man.
Joanne Kelleher
Oct 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Trickery or entertainment?
A loving family man or a single-minded entrepreneur?
An animal lover or cruel ringmaster?
Candace Fleming presents well-researched facts, documents, and photographs to reveal the life of P.T. Barnum, allowing the reader to come to their own decision.
A middle grade reader might pick this for a biography report or if they are interested in oddities and/or the circus.
Jan 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 beginn ...more
Jun 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
I’m trying to work out why exactly this is the only children’s biography of P.T. Barnum I remember having seen before. I’m sure there are others. If I could just lift my lazy fingers high enough to type in “P.T. Barnum” into my library’s catalog system I’m sure I’d find a couple. But why only a couple? Why isn’t Barnum as popular a topic as, say, Houdini? Both spent their lives bamboozling people, one way or another. But where Houdini got off looking like a star, people are awfully mixed on Barn ...more
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I found this book at the Library and today I am going the movie about him. This is a wonderful about PT Barnum. He was a curious person and started out with opening different musuems with exhibits he thought people would love to see. He traveled the world with Tom Thumb. He did a small traveling circus himself before he hooked up with Mr Bailey. He was 60 years old when he got into the bigger circus and they made railcars just to fit their animals and gear. His vision was be a showman, and the G ...more
Jul 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Really good book! Candace Fleming is a fantastic historian and writer for kids, and she does a masterful job in relating the story of Barnum's life for her audience. I liked that she doesn't shy away from the controversial aspects of his life, and that she presents a nuance, balanced picture of a complicated man of his times. This is a great book to read, particularly if you've enjoyed the recent film "The Greatest Showman," which is less than historically accurate. It would be a fun classroom d ...more
Apr 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
The recent film (bio-pic) The Greatest Showman piqued my curiosity about this man, which led me to this 142 page biography replete with photographs and sidebar commentary.

What I learned is that the bio-pic is very much a fictional story inspired by the life of P.T. Barnum. Which is perfectly okay. However, I am very happy that it led me to learn more about this fascinating person and his life's output.

I highly recommend both the book and the film.
Taylor Lara
Aug 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
I loved the layout of this beautiful book. The amazing historical photographs and lively illustrations were balanced perfectly with well written paragraphs full of fascinating stories about the greatest showman on earth. Made me very upset that his beloved circus is no longer running....
Feb 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
I typically do not enjoy biographies but this was a wonderful read. At first I did not think Barnum was a good person but in the end I was convinced otherwise. If you are looking for a good biography to read this is a great choice.
Chris Heffernan
Apr 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved everything about this biography. The information provided wasn't overly detailed and unnecessary, it simply tells the story of a great showman.
Jana Eichhorn
Apr 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting look at a morally questionable man.
Jul 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
So after watching The Greatest Showman, I wanted to learn more about P.T. Barnum. This middle grades biography is the only thing my library had to offer. But it ended up being really good. Just enough information on most of the areas I wanted to learn more about/compare movie vs. fact. It was very readable, well organized, and contained great pictures.
B.  Barron
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting, and a quick read.
Complicated man.
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Great and Only Barnum was a larger than life biography of the late P.T. Barnum. I was initially interested in this book because I had just seen The Greatest Showman movie which featured his life story. I thought it would be a good non-fiction book to read that I maybe could share with my students. It could be used as an assignment for them to model off of when writing biographies. I thought this book contained a lot of research and showed all different sides of P.T. Barnum, including his cor ...more
Aug 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
What a superbly put together book. Fleming shows off everything that was magical, mythical, and morally corrupt about Barnum with impeccably well-researched prose and a treasure trove of images. I'm not sure whether I adore him or despise him after reading this book, but he's certainly fascinating.

Barnum grew up in a rural area of New England and got his start running good-natured con games after it was clear that he would be useless at farm labor. His first big break came after he had moved his
Sunday Cummins
Jun 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
I did pretty much read this book through in one sitting. It is definitely readable - written in a straightforward style. The literary artistry and aesthetic appeal were lacking for me - the layouts were simple and the entire text is black and white which I thought was odd when you think about Barnum's work- it was probably filled with amazing color. The black/white contributed somewhat to the authority, though - because most of the pictures were of primary sources - pictures of Barnum and the cu ...more
Feb 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ls-583
Jamie Poorman

APA Citation: Fleming, C. (2009) The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum. New York: Schwartz & Wade.

Genre: Biography

Format: Print (Hardcover, 151 pages)

Awards: Yalsa Nonfiction Award Finalist (2010)

Selection Process: Booklist starred review, Junior Literary Guild selection

The fast-paced, visually appealling format of this book feels like a visit to Barnum’s greatest show on earth itself! Filled with photographs and sidebar notes that p
P.T. Barnum is probably best known as a founder of the Barnum and Bailey circus, but readers may be surprised to learn that was one of the last things he did. Barnum had a knack for show business and marketing, and knew just what to do to lure customers in. He spent many years collecting exhibits and exotic people for his American Museum, then worked with a number of circuses before finally partnering with Bailey. His life story is a fascinating look at how one man change the face of entertainme ...more
Aug 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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 rede ...more
Beth G.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Erin Sterling
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 Gr
Feb 08, 2010 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Babka Bubbie
Sep 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A truly wonderful biography about perhaps the greatest showman the world has ever known. This is not you traditional bio, however. There are sidebar features on almost every page that spotlight interesting tidbits about Barnum's life, his family and his amazing accomplishments. There are also countless photos of Barnum's promotional materials and illustrations of his amazing museums, which were once the most popular tourist attractions in all of New York City. The book is enlightening and fair i ...more
Mrs. Trimble
Aug 05, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: nf
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 ...more
Kristine Hansen
Nov 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, historical
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.
Mar 07, 2014 added it
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
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I have always been a storyteller. Even before I could write my name, I could tell a good tale. And I told them all the time. As a preschooler, I told my neighbors all about my three-legged cat named Spot. In kindergarten, I told my classmates about the ghost that lived in my attic. And in first grade I told my teacher, Miss Harbart, all about my family's trip to Paris, France.

I told such a good st