The Great and Only Barnum
By Candace Fleming
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2009. 151 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction
P.T. Barnum's name is still one of the biggest in the circus business (currently, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey's). However, before Barnum was part of the circus business, he owned and operated a hugely famous museum, although that museum was vastly different than the traditional museums of today. Part zoo with exotic animals, part freak show;part real and part made-up, Barnum's museum earned him a reputation as a humbugger and a showman likes of which the world had never seen.
Fleming paints a well-rounded portrait of Barnum, showing his flaws (including a tendency to ignore his wife and children in favor of his business) as well as his strengths. Besides painting an interesting portrait of Barnum, this book also gives readers a glimpse of 19th century life and the entertainment people sought.