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The Perfect Man: The Muscular Life and Times of Eugen Sandow, Victorian Strongman Paperback – 8 Dec 2011

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Product details

  • Paperback: 290 pages
  • Publisher: Victorian Secrets (8 Dec. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1906469253
  • ISBN-13: 978-1906469252
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 340,732 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

The Perfect Man now has the perfect biographer. Like its subject, David Waller's book is well-balanced and a thing of beauty that bulges in all the right places.
--Rose Collis - author of Colonel Barker's Monstrous Regiment

"Waller...furnishes a narrative rich in stories reflecting Victorian life." --The Times, 5 December 2011

"A fascinating and exotic tale, cleverly told, of the rise of a man from illegitimacy and obscurity to music-hall success and pioneering body-building." --Rosemary Ashton, author of '142 Strand'

"The Perfect Man now has the perfect biographer. Like its subject, David Waller's book is well-balanced and a thing of beauty that bulges in all the right places."
--Rose Collis, author of 'Colonel Barker's Monstrous Regiment'

"Waller's lively, colourful and fascinating book should help restore interest in an unjustly forgotten icon." --Miranda Seymour, The Daily Telegraph

"a fascinating biography of a Victorian enigma: a man who vigorously transgressed the social taboos of his era, and achieved fame and wealth for doing so. David Waller tells Sandow's story with wit, insight and a sure hand." --Amanda Foreman, author of 'Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire' and 'A World on Fire'

"...hugely entertaining ... Waller skilfully places Sandow within the context of the age." --Juliet Nicolson - The Evening Standard

"Waller...furnishes a narrative rich in stories reflecting Victorian life." --Valerie Grove - The Times

"A fascinating and exotic tale, cleverly told, of the rise of a man from illegitimacy and obscurity to music-hall success and pioneering body-building"
--Rosemary Ashton, author of '142 Strand'

From the Publisher

David Waller's previous biography, The Magnificent Mrs Tennant, was runner-up for The Biographers' Club Prize in 2009, and was described by the Independent as like "Thackeray at his best".

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Gregory S. Buzwell VINE VOICE on 4 Dec. 2011
Format: Paperback
My idea of physical exercise is to walk up the stairs - puffing and wheezing - rather than take the escalator. At the top I feel a little glow of pride, pause for a while to catch my breath, and then stagger heroically onwards. So, not surprisingly, reading about a man who could lift a piano without breaking a sweat made me feel somewhat ashamed of myself.

Eugen Sandow was the grandfather of modern bodybuilding: diligent and inventive in his training techniques; focused with regard to what he wanted; popular with the ladies (and the men) and able to hold an audience in the palm of his hand (metaphorically, although possibly also literally) with his showmanship and craft. Reading this book it's impossible not to like him - even allowing for the occasional bit of shabby behaviour (little statuettes given out as prizes in competitions he put his name to usually turned out to be made of bronze, rather than the advertised gold). Sandow comes across as rather straight-forward and charming, untainted by the celebrity he achieved and genuinely passionate about his craft and his desire to put together work-out routines suited to the people who came to him asking for help in improving their puny physiques. He made money, he achieved fame, he travelled the world but one senses that at the end of it all he remained much the same person as he had been when he first arrived in England. It's to David Waller's immense credit that Sandow the man remains centre stage throughout, rather than Sandow the artificial stage persona.

Having something of a weakness for all things Victorian what particularly appealed to me about this book was the way in which Sandow is placed firmly within the age in which he lived.
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The Perfect Man: The Muscular Life and Times of Eugen Sandow
This is an engaging and entertaining biography of Eugen Sandow by the author of The Magnificent Mrs Tennant: The Adventurous Life of Gertrude Tennant, Victorian Grande Dame. Eugen Sandow, born in the second half of the 19th century came from humble Prussian origins to become, with his perfect body, a major celebrity in his day throughout the British Empire and North America.
In his native Prussia, he evaded military service by joining a circus as an acrobat When the circus ran out of money Sandow was stranded in Brussels where he met Louis Durlacher, alias Professor Attila who ran a gymnasium and took the young man under his wing, telling him he could make him the strongest man in the world. Soon, Sandow and Attila were performing to great acclaim on stage in Europe.
Sandow became a huge music hall sensation with his strongman act which included grand pianos being played on his chest, fighting a lion and allowing a horse and carriage to be driven over a wooden bridge across his body. Victorian ladies were allowed to go backstage for private audiences with Sandow at which they were encouraged to feel his muscles - not at all the image we have today of how Victorian ladies behaved!
Sandow made a considerable fortune not only from his music hall acts but from his schools of physical culture and sale of his magazine and the dumb bells for training. He even, though not very successfully, launched a brand of cocoa.
His celebrity status at the peak of his career was like that of the Beatles or David Beckham.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Other Stories on 29 Nov. 2011
Format: Paperback
This is the biography of Eugen Sandow, Victorian strongman. Now largely - and, as David Waller persuasively argues, undeservedly - forgotten, he was also about as big a celebrity as they come. A music hall hit who toured the world, it was Sandow's enviable physique on which the Mr Universe statuettes are based.

What came across most clearly was the fact that celebrity at the end of the Victorian period functioned in very much the same way as it does today. After Sandow turned up at a music hall performance of the strongman Sampson and comprehensively beating him in a challenge, Sandow became an overnight sensation. As his career developed he also made judicious use of publicity, with stories about his love life being planted in the press, alongside reports of his feats and, later, his Physical Culture schools and products. Indeed, I was constantly reminded of today's crop of rappers who occasionally turn up suited and booted and representing themselves as businessmen with a commodity (books; clothing lines; computer games) to sell. Sandow most certainly got there first.

The Perfect Man is an excellent read, and genuinely fascinating. It doesn't matter if you're not necessarily in fitness or bodybuilding (one despairing look at my own waistline proves that) - if you've even a passing interesting in Victorian/Edwardian cultural history then this is highly recommended.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan F. Vernon on 13 Dec. 2011
Format: Paperback
As a former FT journalist David Waller's sharp, observant, visual, insightful and often witty style was used to profile people and businesses: there are many he could strip naked whereas here the man Sandow struggled to keep his kit on. Was it glue or a piece of wire that held the fig leaf in place? As well as answering a set of course-like questions in the appendix perhaps this could be proposed as an activity. For appropriate use of the word 'splendiferous' in a sentence this book makes a valuable read, whereas Will Self uses words that require a dictionary that you'd never use yourself I find myself eager to incorporate some of David's language into daily conversation. More than a biography this book offers ample historical context, what is more its vaudeville roots are seen as the longtail that brings us to Saturday night TV and the likes of 'Briain's got talent', or in this case Belgium (or was he Prussian). A hardback coffee table version with all the photos would be welcome, or a pop-up version with inflatable muscles. A fun, informed read by someone who could just as easily be profiling George Osborne or Fred Goodwin.
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