Review of 'The Life of P. T. Barnum'

The Life of P. T. Barnum by P.T. Barnum

the_life_of_pt_barnum.jpg First published in 1855, “The Life o P. T. Barnum” is the story of the famous showman, co-founder of the “Barnum & Bailey Circus”, and authored by the man himself. Predictably, the book starts with his early days and influences then his various enterprises leading up to just after his involvement in Jenny Lind's tour of the United States (and beyond). Though briefly touching on personal details this book is very much about Barnum's business ventures that, to modern sensibilities, are quite morally dubious including the purchase of human beings and casual racism which it has to be said were endemic at the time. This very much has to be read bearing in mind the era in which it was written.

Barnum often refers to the art of a showman as “humbug”, that is, “nonsense” that should, therefore, not be taken seriously to frame the methods he used to bring customers through the doors. Indeed, with his many anecdotes those that do so were under no illusion that they were likely to be scammed out of their money and took it with surprisingly good graces. Barnum was never one interested in earning a salary instead preferring the somewhat less stable life of a showman but he most definitely demonstrates here that he was incredibly good at it including his description of his management of “Tom Thumb” and the aforementioned “Jenny Lind”. What is also clear is how fair he (purported) to be with those he employed, offering generous but legally binding contracts in a transparent fashion. Neither Tom nor Jenny seemed to want for much under his employ. It is astonishing to read how he so quickly moved from one venture to another often not even within the same area of business: The purchase of a store, the hiring of a singer, president of a bank, and temperance speaker. OCD perhaps?

Though roughly in chronological order, each chapter is very much a series of anecdotes and frequently do not even involve himself making the book a bit tricky to read but fascinating nonetheless. This edition I read does not have any illustrations despite references in the material but it is not lessened by this omission.

A bit over long and certainly biased towards making the man himself look good (though he does frequently attempt to provide other's viewpoints) and takes your breath away as he rattles through his incredibly eventful life in an era long since gone. An interesting man, an interesting read.

Rating: “Really good but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2022-10-15

Genre: Autobiography

Publisher: Collins Classics

Publication Date: 2017

ISBN: 9780008284749