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Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit [Hardcover]

Robert Bogdan
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Paperback £19.50  

Book Description

Oct 1988
From 1840 until 1940, freak shows by the hundreds crisscrossed the United States, from the smallest towns to the largest cities, exhibiting their casts of dwarfs, giants, Siamese twins, bearded ladies, savages, snake charmers, fire eaters, and other oddities. By today's standards such displays would be considered cruel and exploitative—the pornography of disability. Yet for one hundred years the freak show was widely accepted as one of America's most popular forms of entertainment.

Robert Bogdan's fascinating social history brings to life the world of the freak show and explores the culture that nurtured and, later, abandoned it. In uncovering this neglected chapter of show business, he describes in detail the flimflam artistry behind the shows, the promoters and the audiences, and the gradual evolution of public opinion from awe to embarrassment. Freaks were not born, Bogdan reveals; they were manufactured by the amusement world, usually with the active participation of the freaks themselves. Many of the "human curiosities" found fame and fortune, becoming the celebrities of their time, until the ascent of professional medicine transformed them from marvels into pathological specimans.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (Oct 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226063119
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226063119
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.7 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,157,691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Robert Bogdan is professor of special education, cultural foundations of education, and sociology at Syracuse University.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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First Sentence
OTIS JORDAN, a man with poorly functioning and underformed limbs who is better known in the carnival world as "Otis the Frog Man," was banned in 1984 from appearing as part of the Sutton Sideshow at the New York State Fair. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting context, but a slow read 23 Aug 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
If carnivals and sideshows are of great interest to you, this book may be worth a read. However, if you've read much about carnivals and sideshows, I think you'll find this book is a repeat of information which you've seen before.
This book will remind you of reading school books - written by a teacher - you think you'll be tested on the content.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars freak shows in their historical context 31 Oct 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The author did an excellent job of writing about freak shows in their historical context. Even though written as sociological qualitative research, the lay person can read and enjoy this book. I am buying it for my mother who is not involved in the world of academia. It is well written and provides the reader with an appreciation of the history. I would recommend it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Empirical rather than theoretical, this was a book I found profoundly scholarly (and I see that as praise). Discussing freaks as a culture and a profession, and showing great understanding and humility throughout, the author manages to write a fabulous social history of perceived deviance. In an age of reality TV, this should be mandatory reading in school.
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4.0 out of 5 stars informative and a good read 30 April 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
An excellent book that takes you through the world of freaks.
Detailed life stories of the people and informative and empathetic information about their lives. The book shows how they were exploited but also the exceptional few who gloried in their uniqueness.
Enough illustrations to visualise the content and a well constructed book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great introduction to the sociology of deviance 15 Nov 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I have been using Freak Show in my Introduction to Sociology class since it has been published. I find the book to be a great way to introduce students to a qualitative approach to the sociology of deviance. Bogdan's fresh approach to the material makes the experiences of the so-called "freaks" come alive. Discussion that ensues covers the range from the construction of disabilites, how non-white "races" were constructed as "inferior," and the way modern-day "Freak shows" live on in TV-talk shows. I have frequently cast about for a newer supplemental reading to offer my students, but have always come back to Freak Show. And for all you non-professors out there, I recommend the book as a great read!
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For Young and Old Alike! 22 Jan 2008
By J. D. Radcliffe - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I was afraid that this was going to be one of those hand-wringing tsk-tsk-tsk books with pretenses to sociology. Not a bit of it! It's a well-researched and pleasant history of just what we all want to read about and see at the sideshow. It is particularly uplifting to know that many of these "freaks" are equananimous about their condition, and don't consider themselves particularly ill-treated. The belief that they are sad creatures whom fate has done poorly by, is simply our own condescension.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars for Freak Geeks Only 2 Aug 2002
By Linda Elmquist - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I loved every page of this book. It gave me the most in depth information on the development of the side show and the expoitation of human beings. Also was included little known personal information on some of my favorite oddities. A very intelligent read.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars freak shows in their historical context 31 Oct 1998
By hdjohn01@maxwell.syr.edu - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The author did an excellent job of writing about freak shows in their historical context. Even though written as sociological qualitative research, the lay person can read and enjoy this book. I am buying it for my mother who is not involved in the world of academia. It is well written and provides the reader with an appreciation of the history. I would recommend it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Oddities on Parade 11 Jun 2012
By RCM - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
One does not need to be a fan of the cirucs or amusements along those lines to be intrigued by Robert Bogdan's examination of freak shows. In "Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit," Bogdan traces the roots and heyday of freak shows with alacrity, intelligence, and respect. This thoroughly researched work is filled with pictures and artifacts (some rather gruesome in their subject) that furthers Bogdan's examination of freak show history.

Beginning in the mid-1800s to around 1940, freak shows were a staple of amusement in the United States. At a time when strange creatures and humans from foreign coutries were unknown to those in other countries it was easy to startle and entertain with these fascinating exhibits. Who now can imagine what it would be like to live in a world where a giraffe was an unknown, fascinatingly strange creature. It is so common to us today that at times it is hard to conceive how people could be taken in by some of the fabricated freaks (or gaffs as they were known as). The lack of scientific and medical knowledge allowed freak shows to propser, especially those that featured people we now know as mentally handicapped, because their conditions were unidentified at the time. True, real oddities existed - the super-tall or super-small, the armless or legless wonders, the Siamese twins - but freak shows also cast their lot in created freaks - fake "savages" from foreign lands, "wild" children, island cannibals, and tattooed marvels in a day and age when tattooing was not common, but rather a sure sign of savage heathens.

Bogdan covers the real as well as the fake, those who made themselves feaks and those who were forced to be labled as freaks. Knowing what we do today, it is incredible to think that this was allowed to happen, but humans are so curious and so struck by differences that we find it hard not to gawk at these oddities, whether they are on stage or passing us on the street. At times Bogdan's work reads a lot like a thesis and it is a little redundant and recursive at times, but that is likely due to the fact that the author had a lot of ground to cover. It is evident that Bogdan is not attempting anything like exploitation of his topic, for he treats it with profound respect and honestly, even assessing the freak show's ancestors of today. It is an interesting, although sometimes dry, read about a fascinating topic even for someone who has no interest in the circus whatsoever.
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