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by Linda Granfield

Since 2400 BC, when animal and acrobat acts were first performed, circuses have captivated audiences around the world. In her latest book, Linda Granfield (In Flanders Fields, Amazing Grace) details the circus’s evolution, from its early days as a makeshift travelling caravan, to the invention of the famous ring. A talented and prolific entertainer herself, Granfield has a special ability to capture and hold the reader’s attention. Paraphernalia and amusing anecdotes bring historical facts to life. She also provides food for thought about issues that have always surrounded the circus.

The indexed book is broken down into seven parts, beginning with the birth of the circus and ending with speculation about its future. The romance and the mystique of the big top, as embodied in stories and art, are balanced with a realistic look at circus life – the endless rehearsals, the communal meals, the time spent on the road.

Much of the book is dedicated to the show itself and our generations-old fascination with traditional circus performances. They are all here: the clowns, the trapeze artists, as well as the more controversial sideshow and animal acts.

The modern circus has all but eliminated the use of human spectacles, but the use of animals is still a hot, emotional issue. Granfield sidesteps a personal statement, but acknowledges: “Find a circus, and a group of animal rights activists are sure to be close by.” She should be credited for her balanced presentation of the facts.

Circus is visually enticing throughout. Photographs, posters, advertisements, and other artifacts accompany the text. Eric Beddows’ terrific cover illustration is garnished with bright, psychedelic colours; it is absolutely irresistible and the perfect accompaniment to a book that children of all ages can really sink their teeth into.