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  • The Wonders

  • Lifting the Curtain on the Freak Show, Circus and Victorian Age
  • By: John Woolf
  • Narrated by: Gavin Osborn
  • Length: 10 hrs and 17 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (86 ratings)

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The Wonders  By  cover art

The Wonders

By: John Woolf
Narrated by: Gavin Osborn
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Publisher's summary

The Wonders is a radical new history of the Victorian age: meet the forgotten and extraordinary freak performers whose talents and disabilities helped define an era.

On 23 March, 1844, General Tom Thumb, at 25 inches tall, entered the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace and bowed low to Queen Victoria.

On both sides of the Atlantic, this meeting marked a tipping point in the 19th century - the age of the freak was born.

Bewitching all levels of society, it was a world of astonishing spectacle - of dwarfs, giants, bearded ladies, Siamese twins and swaggering showmen - and one that has since inspired countless novels, films and musicals.

But the real stories (human dramas that so often eclipsed the fantasy presented on the stage) of the performing men, women and children have been forgotten or marginalised in the histories of the very people who exploited them.

In this richly evocative account, Dr John Woolf uses a wealth of recently discovered material to bring to life the sometimes tragic, sometimes triumphant, always extraordinary stories of people who used their (dis)abilities and difference to become some of the first international celebrities.

And through their lives we discover afresh some of the great transformations of the age: the birth of show business, of celebrity, of advertising, of 'alternative facts'; while also exploring the tensions between the power of fame, the impact of exploitation and our fascination with 'otherness'.

©2019 John Woolf (P)2019 Audible, Ltd

Critic reviews

"A promising young historian with a taste for the exotic." (Stephen Fry)

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent

Brilliantly academic and so very readable. Loved it. Learned.
Highly recommend this to all interested in this subject

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5 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Perfectly done all the way through.

These are my favorite kinds of historical books. Concise and carefully executed. It’s a perfect book with just the right narration.

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4 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Strikes the right chord

Not maudlin or voyeuristic or creepy or sad. Well rounded and well read. Loved it.

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7 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Wonderful book - A real eye opener.

I loved this book, and the humanization all these performers are given.
It really opened my eyes to the horrible men and or women that took advantage of these wonderful souls.
I would love to see a book or movie focused only on P T Barnum, and the truth behind this monster.

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8 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Eye opening for the taboo

I've always had a mom fascination with the sideshows and the original circuses and this gave me a much better idea about their origin and how awful PT Barnum actually was.

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3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Very well done

I found this book to be well researched and informative on many levels sadly Eugenics included.

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2 people found this helpful