Topsy: The Startling Story of the Crooked-Tailed Elephant, P. T. Barnum, and the American Wizard, Thomas Edison

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Open Road + Grove/Atlantic, Jul 2, 2013 - History - 288 pages
3 Reviews
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The true story of a nineteenth-century elephant caught between warring circuses and battling scientists, from the author of The Book of Mychal.
In 1903, on Coney Island, an elephant named Topsy was electrocuted. Many historical forces conspired to bring her, Thomas Edison, and those 6,600 volts of alternating current together that day. Tracing them all in Topsy, journalist Michael Daly weaves together a fascinating popular history, the first book to tell this astonishing tale.
At the turn of the century, circuses in America were at their apex with P. T. Barnum and Adam Forepaugh competing in a War of the Elephants. Their quest for younger, bigger, or more “sacred” pachyderms brought Topsy to America. Fraudulently billed as the first native-born elephant, Topsy was immediately caught between the disputing circuses as well as the War of the Currents, in which Edison and George Westinghouse (and Nikola Tesla) battled over the superiority of alternating versus direct current.
Rich in period Americana, and full of circus tidbits and larger than life characters, Topsy is a touching and entertaining read.
“A rollicking pachydermal tale . . . A summer escape.” —The New York Times
“A nineteenth-century reality show that boggles the mind as the pages fly by with events that have you laughing out loud one moment and gasping in disbelief the next.” —Tom Brokaw
“I’ve always respected Michael Daly as a great New York writer . . . He humanizes and speaks for those animals who cannot speak. He touches the hearts of those of us who are not animal activists.” —James McBride
“A skillfully told and admirably researched reminder of a time not as long ago as we’d like to think.” —The Wall Street Journal

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Carlie - LibraryThing

I have not read a book that left me so enraged at humanity in a very long time. I knew when I started what would happen to Topsy, but it was no less jarring and despicable. She was a baby elephant ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Sullywriter - LibraryThing

An engrossing book that brings vividly to life a fascinating era of American history, science, and entertainment populated with absorbing portraits of intriguing figures like Thomas Edison, George ... Read full review


The 200Pound Baby
The Elephant
The Elephantine Expedition
The War Between the States the Battle of the Dwarfs
The Fire the Plowing Elephant the Panic
Crooked Tale Crooked Tail
Another War Begins
The Executioners Experiments
Reading Your Own Obituary
Topsy Somersaults Gold Dust
The Wizards Latest Marvel and
From Lady Moody to the BillionDollar Smile
Here I Am Here I Am Where Are You?

The Continued Magic of Kindness and the First
The Wizard
The White Elephant
Ephs Escape Pickpockets and Pink Lemonade
The Tree of Knowledge and the Fearless Frogman
The Big Swim

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About the author (2013)

Michael Daly has been a newspaper journalist and columnist for many years, currently with the New York Daily News. He is the author of The Book of Mychal: The Surprising Life and Heroic Death of Father Mychal Judge about his friend, an NYFD chaplain who died on 9/11. In 2002, Daly was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. He lives in Brooklyn.

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