It takes a special kind of guy to write about himself for over 800 pages and get away with it.Barnum not only gets away with it, he leaves the reader wanting more.Typical for a man whose life-long goal was to give the public more than what they expected for their money.
(My money, by the way, was $7.50 at a local Half Priced Books.For that I got a battered and water-damaged black-leather bound copy published in 1874.My copy is the whole work in one volume.It contains the text plus of Barnum’s life up until his 59th birthday in1869—when he “retired” from show business—plus 3 appendixes from ’72, ’73, and ’74.I am glad to report that I, like so many others before me, got more than my money’s worth.I imagine there are later copies out there that contain additional appendixes for later years, but I have not verified that.)
This is a wonderful book.The appendixes are especially nice.In them, the reader sees how a restless lion found retirement unsuitable and instead developed a new project—a great traveling Museum, Menagerie, Circus, and Hippodrome that everyone in the industry said was too big and costly to succeed.Of course it succeeded. Wildly. Barnum’s circus is of course his most enduring legacy—I was surprised to learn that he never entered the circus business until the age of 60, and that as a second “career."
Prior to his “retirement” Barnum was one of the most successful impresarios in America, magnetic figure who managed the early career of Tom Thumb, the American tour of Jenny Lind, and ran the highly successful American Museum in New York for thirty years (until it burnt down, was rebuilt, and burnt again). Somehow he also found time to do a little urban planning, serve time in the Connecticut State legislature, lose a fortune, lecture on wealth and on temperance, and regain his fortune. He was a firm believer that if your advertising isn’t working the solution is more advertising, and an original advocate of the idea that there is no such thing as bad publicity.Most of all he dreamed big, planned big, and always aimed to keep the public entertained.
This is a bold book worthy of the larger-than-life figure Barnum became.It is long, and it is not a quick read.But I never found it boring, and I recommend it highly—especially for anyone interested in 19th century America, as it provides a compelling portrait of one of the era’s most popular figures.
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