The Great and Only Barnum
The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum
Written by Candace Fleming
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade, 2009
Recommended Grades: 5th to 8th
151 pages, 30,520 words
The Great and Only Barnum begins with P.T. Barnum’s birth and ends with his death. Barnum was born in a very poor family in 1810 and he died 81 years later. He was named after his grandfather, Phineas Taylor, but his family called him Tale. His grandfather enjoyed playing pranks on family members.
Barnum had a crazy childhood. At age 5, he started collecting pennies. When he was 6, he traded his 100 pennies at a tavern for a silver dollar. “I felt that I became a lot richer,” Tale said. From there on out, he saved every cent he got.
At the age of 2, his grandfather deeded a piece of land to Tale called Ivy Island. Tale grew up believing his lush, green island was covered with diamond mines. Tale finally got to see his island when he turned twelve—a snake infested swamp! His grandfather had played a joke on him. One would think this cruel joke would make Tale mad. Instead, it turned him into a prankster.
Later in life, he bought a museum located in New York City. The museum hosted many exhibits such as stuffed animals, live animals, fossils, as well as having performers like Isaac Sprague, the Living Skeleton. He did many “humbugs” (the tricking of the public) such as the mermaid humbug and the Wooly horse humbug. He earned thousands of dollars, becoming very famous and wealthy. His whole life circled around fame and money. He even erected his own palace, naming it Iranistan.
He overcame many disasters in his life; his museum burnt down twice; his house burnt down and he went bankrupt. But Barnum bounced back and even built a new mansion called Waldemere. Barnum again joined the circus when he was sixty years old and stayed with it until he died. He even wrote his own obituary! I thought this book was good and you will too.
The tremendous, stupendous Candace Fleming has written another thought-provoking biography about the greatest showman on earth. The Great and Only Barnum is full of fascinating facts, amazing anecdotes, sensational sidebars, and phenomenal photographs. Fleming discloses Barnum’s public and private life in an objective manner. She doesn’t hide or conceal Barnum’s weaknesses or faults. Instead, she paints a vivid portrait of Barnum’s life as a showman, husband, father, friend, politician, and philanthropist.
The book begins by describing the small town Barnum grew up in. The sidebars and engravings depicting Barnum’s childhood capture what it was like to live in the early nineteenth century in Bethel, Connecticut. When Barnum earned his first silver dollar, a big deal in 1815, he promised himself that he would make lots more money and become rich. Where did Barnum go to learn about making money? By moving to New York of course!
Barnum experienced ups and downs in his early career, but it wasn’t until he joined a traveling circus that he mastered the craft of sales and promotion. He was a natural-born salesman! But Barnum missed his family and grew tired of traveling; he yearned for his own business. In 1841, Barnum quit the circus and bought a museum—using the property his grandfather left him as collateral (refer to Jason’s review)!
The American Museum was a huge success and branded Barnum as a Showman! Barnum filled it with unique exhibits such as bird collections, paintings, live animals, mummies, and “Human Curiosities”—people who were other than normal.
Fleming’s compelling narrative will keep the reader engaged, along with her use of direct quotes from primary sources. And if you want to find out who actually said “There’s a sucker born every minute,” you’ll have to buy the book—it’s worth it!
Click on the link below to learn about the book and its remarkable author.