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Publisher's Summary

An atmospheric tale of life and love in a Depression-era traveling circus.

Nonagenarian Jacob Jankowski reflects back on his wild and wondrous days with a circus. It's the Depression Era and Jacob, finding himself parentless and penniless, joins the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. There he meets the freaks, grifters, and misfits that populate this world. Jacob introduces us to Marlena, beautiful star of the equestrian act; to August, her charismatic but twisted husband (and the circus' animal trainer); and to Rosie, a seemingly untrainable elephant.

Beautifully written, with a luminous sense of time and place, Water for Elephants tells of love in a world in which love's a luxury few can afford.

©2006 Sara Gruen (P)2006 HighBridge Company

Critic Reviews

  • Book Sense Book of the Year Award, Adult Fiction, 2007
  • Audie Award Finalist, Fiction, Unabridged, 2007
" Water for Elephants resembles stealth hits like The Giant's House, by Elizabeth McCracken, or The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold, books that combine outrageously whimsical premises with crowd-pleasing romanticism. . . . With a showman's expert timing, [Gruen] saves a terrific revelation for the final pages, transforming a glimpse of Americana into an enchanting escapist fairy tale.” ( New York Times Book Review)
"Just like a circus, the magic of the story and the writing convince you to suspend your disbelief." ( Booklist)
"Gruen skillfully humanizes the midgets, drunks, rubes, and freaks who populate her book." ( Publishers Weekly)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Overall
  • Gail
  • San Deigo, CA USA
  • 08-16-10

Good Listen

The story wasn't all sweet as some reviews have written, it had some violence that made the story more believable about the circus life and the people who worked them. The narration was superb as though you were transported into the scene as it was taking place. I think it was worth the time and credit and hope you enjoy it.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Great Story & Great Characters

Several of my friends recommended this book to me over the past several years. I finally purchased it when it was on sale and it was fantastic. I loved the story, the setting and the point of view of both the older and younger hero. I enjoyed every minute and would highly recommend it!

  • Overall
  • Donna
  • Queensland, Australia
  • 08-04-10

Just Wonderful

Yet another book I never normally would have even noticed, let alone read, but I bought it when it was on sale, and I'm so glad I did. The narration by both men is fabulous, especially Mr Jones (it feels like he could read a shopping list, and it would still feel like you were learning something amazing), and the story itself is great. It's harsh in places, beautiful in others, and I was terribly disappointed when the story finished. I could stay in that world for a looooong time :)

  • Overall


I could not finish this book because of the constant cursing and the unnecessary description of the main characters first sexual encounter.

  • Overall

Great listen!

I was quite surprised by this book. I have looked at it for a long time but was hesitant to buy it because it sounded a little dull. As time has passed I continued to hear and read excellent reviews and I was swayed to give it a listen. I was quickly drawn into the story and found this book hard to stop listening to. The narration is nothing short of spectacular. Both Mr. LeDoux and Jones make the characters come to life with emotion you can nearly feel. The only criticism I have is in regards to the way the author ends the book. I am not going to provide details, but I found the ending a little too unrealistic. Well worth the listen over all.

  • Overall

Enjoyed very Much!!

I have had this book in my wish list for a long time but just recently purchased it. Well worth the credit. A little different then what I'm used to! Normally read stuff like Diana Gabaldon & Gena Showalter, This book starts out a little slow but gets going quickly. A very charming read. I like the Narrators, They do a great job of young & old Jacob. I love how S.G. made Old Jacob Spunky & realistic, in fact I had a clear vision of all the Characters & the time period. I definitely recommend this book & plan on seeing WFE when it comes to theaters.

  • Overall


I bought this book due to the readers reviews. I was not, in any way disappointed. Loved the ending. I, unlike a few of your reviewers, did not see the ending coming so to speak. A lovely surprise. Will read more by the author, gladly! Second favorite book of all time!

  • Overall
  • Jill
  • Franklin, CT, United States
  • 08-01-10


I had picked up this book in the store a few times and didn't think I would enjoy a book about a circus or circus life. I decided to pick up this audiobook on a sale day, and I am glad I did. It is so much more than a circus book, and it has stayed with me. I adored the narration of Jacob at 90 (or 93), and my heart went out to him as he described his existence at this stage of life. The description of life during the Depression was interesting and sad, and the characters were well developed.

It is true, as another reviewer mentioned, that there is some explicit language and raunchy situations, but it is done with humor and is relevant to the story. That being said, the book is not appropriate for children, but a definite thumbs up from me!

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Susan
  • Rock Hill, SC, United States
  • 07-31-10

One of the best!

I could kick myself for waiting so long to listen to this. This is one of the best audible books I've listened to. Great book! Can't wait for the movie.

  • Overall
  • cristie
  • visalia, CA, United States
  • 07-30-10

A great listen

If you want to try out an audio book this one is great. The narrators really bring the story alive. Can't wait for the movie to come out. I really loved the ending.