In this lively biography, Fleming briskly and clearly describes how a boy from Connecticut survived his grandfather's practical jokes and grew up to be the supreme showman of the day…There are many fascinating tidbits here, and with its generous assortment of sidebars, photos and illustrations, the book sometimes resembles Barnum's world-renowned three-ring circusyou don't know where to look firstbut it is enlightening through and through.
The Washington Post
Candace Fleming's lively and well-researched biography, The Great and Only Barnum, takes an evenhanded approach to her subject, though it's clear from the start that she has real affection for him. Through a vivid central narrative, fascinating period photos and informative sidebars on everything from the history of the museum to the uses of circus slang, Fleming gives us an engrossing portrait of a Yankee entrepreneur who was inventive, shrewd and fundamentally happy
The New York Times
The life of showman Phineas Taylor Barnum gets show-stopping treatment in Fleming's (The Lincolns) latest biographical work. Presented as clever, resilient and ever-consumed with making a buck, the Barnum of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is brought to life in anecdotes over 11 chapters. Nicknamed “Tale” as a boy, he “hated farmwork” (“I was always ready to concoct fun, or lay plans for money-making, but hand-work was decidedly not in my line”). His personal struggles with alcohol and a less-than-happy marriage are detailed alongside his many public successes (and hoaxes). A tour of his famed American Museum and an account of a day at the circus (complete with descriptions of the human curiosities Barnum employed) set readers in the middle of the singular late 19th-century entertainment scene. As in a real circus, the large-format pages include plenty to grab readers' attention: white-on-black sidebars that put the entrepreneur's feats in context (“African Americans were barred from entering Barnum's American Museum except on certain days”), b&w photos and advertising posters. Audiences will step right up to this illuminating and thorough portrait of an entertainment legend. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)
Gr 6 Up—It is unlikely that Barnum ever actually said "There's a sucker born every minute," but he freely admitted to being a master of the "humbug"—a spectacle that both fooled and entertained the public. This highly readable biography uses primary sources, including Barnum's own words, to trace the man's roller-coaster life from his boyhood in Connecticut to his early career as the creator of the country's most famous "museums" (comparable to sideshows) to his later role as the master of enormously successful circuses, winning and losing several fortunes along the way. Fleming captures Barnum's exuberant personality and describes how his gift for promotion and dedication to delivering what the public wanted made him the world's most famous showman. She also reveals the private Barnum, a man who valued culture, had deep religious beliefs, and devoted considerable time and funds to charity and public service. Fleming is admiring of Barnum, but does not dismiss his weaknesses and faults. The text is supplemented with sidebars and reproductions of period photos and illustrations, including several of Barnum's advertisements. The bibliography includes Web sites and a selection of primary- and secondary-source books, and notes are done in paragraph format. This book goes beyond traditional biography to give students an objective and informative glimpse into the sometimes-exploitative world of 19th-century entertainment. An outstanding choice for all middle level and secondary collections.—Mary Mueller, Rolla Junior High School, MO
P.T. Barnum is likely to bring to mind the famous circus, but there is much more to the legendary showman, and Fleming brings all of him boldly to life. Born into poverty, Barnum's love for money came at an early age; his first foray into entertainment was the purchase of Joice Heth, reputed to be a 161-year-old slave formerly owned by George Washington's father. When the hoax was revealed, Barnum's name became forever linked with humbug, but he discovered that people did not mind being fooled if they were entertained. The author takes readers on a riveting tour of Barnum's seemingly cursed American Museum, where they encounter such fascinating characters as Siamese twins Chang and Eng and the "Living Skeleton." Much as she admires her subject, she does not flinch in revealing Barnum's notable faults-his cruelty as a husband, indifference as a father, corrupting influence on the dwarf Tom Thumb and exploitation of animals and the deformities and handicaps of human "curiosities." Handsomely designed, the book is abundantly illustrated with circus posters and handbills, photographs, etchings and other visuals. As revealing as it is entertaining. (Biography. 10-14)
New York Times Book Review, December 6, 2009: “Lively… an engrossing portrait…honest and fun”
Starred Review, Booklist, June 1, 2009:
“The material is inherently juicy, but credit Fleming’s vivacious prose, bountiful period illustrations, and copious source notes for fashioning a full picture of one of the forbearers of modern celebrity.”
Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2009:
"As revealing as it is entertaining."
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October 2009: "the extensive gallery of period photos, engravings, and advertising bills, are worth the price of admission, and bibliography, source notes, index, and web resources will assist students in turning a rousing good read into an entertaining school report."
Publishers Weekly, August 31, 2009: "Audiences will step right up to this illuminating and thorough portrait of an entertainment legend"
School Library Journal, September 2009: "An outstanding choice for all middle level and secondary collections."
Instructor, November/December 2009: "You'll want to invite readers to step right up to this three-ring circus of a biography, which not only tells the story of P.T. Barnum, but also the circus culture he helped create and his impact and modern entertainment."