6-1 | Circus and the City: New York, 1793–2010

Book Review

Circus and the City: New York, 1793–2010

Matthew Wittmann
New York: Bard Graduate Center, 2012. Appendix, bibliography, index, images. 208 pp. $40.00 paper. ISBN: 9780300187472

The American Circus

Susan Weber, Kenneth L. Ames, and Mat- thew Wittmann, eds.
New York: Bard Graduate Center, 2012. Bibliography, index, images. 460 pp. $65.00 cloth. ISBN: 9780300185393

by John M. Kinder

First Paragraph:

Though its reputation is greatly diminished today, the circus was one of the most popular forms of public amusement in the United States from the early nineteenth century until the dawn of the television era. During the circus’s so-called “golden age” (from about 1870–1910), circus performers were household names, circus posters blanketed city walls, and traveling exhibitions by the likes of P. T. Barnum, James Bailey, and Wisconsin’s Ringling Brothers attracted millions of spectators a year. The appeal of what Barnum deemed “The Greatest Show on Earth” is not difficult to understand. Cheap to attend and considered safe for the entire family, the circus incorporated a wide array of popular and exotic entertainments, from acrobatics and equestrian displays to “freak shows” and animal menageries. The result was a dazzling and often bewildering feast for the senses.