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Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit
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Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  231 ratings  ·  19 reviews
From 1840 until 1940, freak shows by the hundreds crisscrossed the United States, from the smallest towns to the largest cities, exhibiting their casts of dwarfs, giants, Siamese twins, bearded ladies, savages, snake charmers, fire eaters, and other oddities. By today's standards such displays would be considered cruel and exploitative—the pornography of disability. Yet fo ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published May 15th 1990 by University of Chicago Press (first published 1988)
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David Ward
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit by Robert Bogdon (University of Chicago Press 1988) (791.1). Author Robert Bogdon paints a vivid portrait of life inside the travelling shows that exhibited malformed humans. The fat lady, the sword swallower, the Lobster Boy, the bearded lady, and on and on. From 1850 until well into the twentieth century, there was no stigma attached to the opportunity to gape at these unfortunate humans. This is a fantastically researched volume o ...more
Sep 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book because of the extensive research that was done to make the reader knowledgeable about the topic at hand. While Mr. Bogdan breaks it up into categories that can be followed if read the right way, I feel that he should've just broken it up into more manageable pieces; that way the reader isn't easily confused (as I sometimes was). I loved the fact that there were biographies and ephemera that you never knew about the "freaks" that you could buy at a time when money was sc ...more
Jul 31, 2007 rated it liked it
"As freaks sat on the platform, most looked down on the audience with contempt--not because they felt angry at being gawked at or being called freaks, but simply because the amusement world looked down on 'rubes' in general. Their contempt was that of insiders toward the uninitiated. For those in the amusement world it was the sucker who was on the outside, not the exhibit."

Thoroughly decent historical exploration of the sideshow's carny roots, this one operating from a cultural/sociological per
Elaine Selfridge
Feb 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It’s worth considering that, although freak shows seemed to take advantage and supposedly exploited people with disabilities, medical conditions, and birth defects, those “freaks” were largely showmen and in charge of their careers. People who thought they were doing good by working to ban these types of shows as exploitive made it so the freaks couldn’t make a living.

Fast forward to now and we have freak shows that are socially acceptable because we call them “reality” TV shows. Who’s exploiti
Mar 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Really interesting perspective of the history of the 'Freak Show'. Exploitation vs. Opportunities/Travel/Financial Stability/Family Mentality. It's definitely a niche topic, but I am very glad I picked it up. ...more
Jo Besser
Jun 10, 2019 rated it it was ok
A lot of the information I read I knew about. There was some information that I didn't know and was new and interesting to read about.

Only complaint were how sources were cited. It took away from the book because of how distracting it was.
Nov 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: traded-giveaway
Robert Bogdan is a Professor of Cultural Foundations of Education and Sociology and the Director of the Social Science Doctoral Program for the Center on Human Policy, Law, and Disability Studies at Syracuse University. His book, Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit, looks at the history and practice of the freak show through a social lens.

He directly states his thesis early in the book: "Our reaction to freaks is not a function of some deep-seated fear or some "energy"
M. Benesh
For being one of the first researchers to investigate this topic, Bogdan's work is a necessary starting point when you want to learn more about the history of Freak Shows. I didn't entirely agree with his assessment that Freak Shows were largely beneficial and not exploitative to performers, and I found his eventual use of the term "exhibit" or various derogatory terms for performers (despite their being common and accepted terms within Freak Show circles, I still thought they were a little too ...more
Jan 14, 2013 rated it liked it
This was an excellent read, researched thoroughly and in depth. I like how the author was objective and allowed us to cast our own judgments. I'm sure for those who felt truly exploited by showing themselves there were just as many or more who felt it was a decent way to earn a living and maintain a lifestyle. I truly dislike it when people get outraged on the behalf of others. There is that saying about taking a walk in their shoes. ...more
Kathryn Wardell
Dec 13, 2016 rated it liked it
Well researched insight into the oddities that defied normalcy from 1800s to about 1950s. The rich treasure of folks on the tail ends of the bell curve are chronicled in this history of little people, the tallest man, conjoined twins, the fat lady, albinos and a variety of people who had no other means of employment but their differences.
Mar 18, 2008 rated it liked it
This book is interesting in so much as some of the facts/history he presents is fascinating. What caused me to rate it a three and not higher is that there is an overall tone of disdain in his writing--even to the point that you can see him actively trying to cover it up...
Ashley Melucci
Feb 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is very well researched, and written. I am skeptical, however, of the conclusions he draws in the end, but if you are looking for an educated historical account of the freakshow, I would recommend.
Mar 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
Occasionally repetitive, but by far the most thorough examination of freak shows I've ever come across. ...more
Dec 24, 2010 rated it liked it
I just found a list of books I read as a teen. I have to admit I don't remember this one, but I think I probably read it for my senior history project on freak shows in American culture. ...more
May 07, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Better than Leslie Fiedler, still pretty dated now though.
Sep 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
If anyone is interested in the history of Freak Show performers, you should read this book. It is extremely well researched and written.
Aug 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: true-story
This was a really interesting book. It was sad as well though. It goes through the history of exploiting people with deformities through the circus and other "freak" shows. ...more
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