The Colossal P.T. Barnum Reader: Nothing Else Like it in the Universe

Front Cover
University of Illinois Press, 2005 - Biography & Autobiography - 258 pages
The P. T. Barnum Reader reveals the trailblazing American showman P. T. Barnum as, by turns, a moral reformer, a habitual hoaxer, an insightful critic, a savvy "puffer," a master of images, a sparkling writer, a relentless provocateur, and an early advocate of "family" entertainments. Taken together, these selections paint a new and more complete portrait of this complex man than has ever been seen before.

James W. Cook's The Colossal P. T. Barnum Reader is the largest collection of Barnum's works ever produced. Included are excerpts from his pseudo-autobiographical novel The Adventures of an Adventurer (1841), his European letters from 1844-46 informing readers of the New York Atlas of his regal reception overseas, and a large selection from his Ancient and Modern Humbugs of the World, Barnum's 1864-65 insider's look into the frauds of nineteenth-century American culture. It offers a glimpse of Tom Thumb's minstrel and singing performances in front of Queen Victoria, Barnum's many fraudulent representations of the supposedly ancient Joice Heth, and a more immediate, less filtered sense of Barnum as cultural and social critic in his serialized writings and travelogues. This volume also features reproductions of difficult to find posters from Barnum's two-decade collaboration with the prominent New York lithographers, Currier and Ives, and vintage photographs.

Finally, the reader also helps us to understand Barnum's role in building the modern culture industry. We follow his career from itinerant hawker, hardly distinguishable from his pre-industrial forebears, to manager of the world's first show business empire, with a staff of thousands and brand recognition across four continents. The Colossal P. T. Barnum Reader tracks the shifting personas of the great showman, his representational choices, and his publics across the nineteenth century.



Barnums Serialized Writings
Barnums Gallery of Wonders
Barnums Public Reception

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2005)

James W. Cook is an associate professor of history and American culture at the University of Michigan. He is the author of The Arts of Deception: Playing with Fraud in the Age of Barnum.

Bibliographic information