Author: Candace Fleming
Illustrator: Ray Fenwick
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade Books (An Imprint of Random House Children's Books)
ISBN: 978-0-375-84197-2

Click Here To Purchase The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum

Even though we may be familiar with the name P.T. Barnum, one of the greatest showmen and founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, how many of us can truthfully say we know the real Barnum?

He certainly was a fascinating character who may have been vilified by some but was nonetheless admired by many. And even though he died over one hundred years ago, he is still not forgotten.

Candace Fleming, author of The Great And Only Barnum: Three Tremendous, Stupendous Life Of Showman P.T. Barnum spent two years researching her book in archives and libraries and what she discovered and shares with us is quite engrossing. Fleming points out that most of the book's information came directly from Barnum and his numerous stream of stories, pamphlets, articles, advertisements, books and letters.

In the opening chapter of the book, Fleming states that the primary objective of Barnum was to amuse people and according to historian Philip B. Kunhardt, it was “to awaken a sleeping sense of wonder, to help open the eyes of his fellow citizens to the amazing diversity of the human and natural world.” In order to accomplish this feat, he had introduced his audiences “to the rare, the strange, the beautiful and the exotic.”

Laid out in short, self-contained sections, the book follows the fortunes and misfortunes of Barnum beginning with his boyhood days in Bethel Connecticut where he was born in 1810. Named after his prank-playing grandfather, Phineas Taylor, Barnum would eventually be known as P.T., although his parents called him Tale. At the tender age of two, P.T. received from his grandfather a piece of land called Ivy Island and he grew up imagining that this piece of land was a lush green island set in the middle of a sparkling blue lake covered with gold and diamond mines. It was not until Barnum was twelve when he visited his grandfather's gift and he discovered that the island he had imagined was nothing more than a piece of swamp not very far from his home. His grandfather's cruel joke was meant to turn him into a hardworking Yankee, instead it greatly influenced him into becoming a prankster just like his grandfather and as we read, played an influential role in all of his future business ventures.

P.T's childhood was over at the age of fifteen when his father died and it was up to him to be the breadwinner in order to support his mother and four younger siblings. His early creative adventures in earning money began with a lottery he set up that earned him a tidy profit. Tired of living in a small town, P.T. moved to New York where he learned a lesson that he would adhere to all of his life, that using good-nature deception was not necessarily a bad thing, particularly in business.

P.T. applied this principle when he acquired the rights for one thousand dollars of an exhibition of a woman who was advertised as being 161 years old, who was torn from her homeland in Africa and sold into slavery. His next money-making scheme was with Turner's Old Columbian Circus where he sold tickets and had a piece of the show's profits. His ventures into museums, which took up a good part of his business career, began with the acquisition of the John Scudder American Museum located on the corner of Ann Street and Broadway in New York, one of the busiest and most important streets in the city. It was here where Barnum experimented with appealing exhibits, although at times their authenticity was doubtful. Some of the exhibits included Josephine Clofulia, the Swiss Bearded Lady, Tom Thumb, a twenty-five inch man and many more that are more fully described in the book.

Barnum, as with most business people, had his ups and downs, particularly when his museums succumbed to disastrous fires. However, he was a survivor and he never let bad luck or disasters get the better of him. As for Barnum's family life, Fleming devotes an entire section examining his relationships with his wife and children, although as pointed out, Barnum may have had lots to say about his money, his museum, and himself, but he had very little to say about his family.

The last sections of the book explore Barnum's introduction to James Bailey who became his partner in the Barnum & Bailey Circus that is still so well-known today throughout the world.

Most of the material presented in this book is insightful and narrated with admirable clarity that will appeal to young and older readers. As a backdrop to Barnum's life, Fleming provides tidbits of historical information that are presented in sidebars as well as various photo images that bring to life the era in which Barnum pursued his business ventures. There may be other books devoted to the life of P.T. Barnum, however this one stands out for its carefully chosen details and minimalist text. Included is also a short bibliography, reference to Internet sites, and source notes by chapter.

Just in passing, it was not P.T. Barnum who said “There's a sucker born every minute,” but rather it was David Hannum, one of Barnum's competitors. As Fleming quotes the historian A. H. Saxon, Barnum respected his audiences and would never have called them suckers.

Click Here To Purchase The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum