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Publisher's Summary

“Les Standiford takes us under the big top and behind the curtain in this richly researched and thoroughly engaging narrative that captures all of the entrepreneurial intrigue and spirit of the American circus.” (Gilbert King, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Devil in the Grove)

Millions have sat under the “big top,” watching as trapeze artists glide and clowns entertain, but few know the captivating stories behind the men whose creativity, ingenuity, and determination created one of our country’s most beloved pastimes.

In Battle for the Big Top, New York Times best-selling author Les Standiford brings to life a remarkable era when three circus kings - James Bailey, P. T. Barnum, and John Ringling - all vied for control of the vastly profitable and influential American Circus. Ultimately, the rivalry of these three men resulted in the creation of an institution that would surpass all intentions and, for 147 years, hold a nation spellbound.

Filled with details of their ever-evolving showmanship, business acumen, and personal magnetism, this Ragtime-like narrative will delight and enchant circus-lovers and anyone fascinated by the American experience.

©2021 Les Standiford (P)2021 PublicAffairs

What the critics say

“A blow-by-blow account of the rivalry among James Bailey, John Ringling, P.T. Barnum, and other players in the American circus world.... Fans of the circuses of old, as well as students of popular culture, will enjoy this look back.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“A mesmerizing, larger-than-life tale from brilliant storyteller Les Standiford - P.T. Barnum himself would tell you it's well worth the price of admission. With acrobatic grace and escalating suspense, Standiford documents the evolution of the American circus, in a masterful work of nonfiction as spellbinding as the monsters, mermaids, balletic elephants, and charismatic ringleaders that fill its pages.” (Karen Russell, author of the New York Times best seller Swamplandia!)

Battle for the Big Top is as rollicking, infectious, and enthralling as the subject it covers. With verve and style to spare, Les Standiford spins an unforgettable and addictively readable yarn about the three great showmen of the wildest of all entertainments - the American circus. What a blast.” (Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River and Shutter Island)

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