At its heyday, the American circus was the largest show-biz industry the world had ever seen. From the mid-1800s to mid-1900s, traveling circuses performed for audiences of up to 14,000 per show, employed as many as 1,600 men and women, and crisscrossed the country on 20,000 miles of railroad in one season alone. The spectacle of death-defying daredevils, strapping super-heroes and scantily-clad starlets, fearless animal trainers, and startling “freaks" gripped the American imagination, outshining theater, vaudeville, comedy, and minstrel shows.
This book sheds fresh light on the circus phenomenon. With photographic gems of early circus performers, as well as original posters, lithographs, sideshow banners and engravings from the 16th–19th centuries illustrating the worldwide roots of the circus, readers are transported to a world of thrill and skill, grit and glamour. Highlights include iconic circus photographs by Mathew Brady, Cornell Capa, Walker Evans, Weegee, and Lisette Model, and little-known circus images by Stanley Kubrick and Charles and Ray Eames.