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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Believe it or not... » » Secrets of the Sideshows by Joe Nickell--Any good? (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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Profile of jeremysweiss
Has anyone read this? If so, what do you think?
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<BR>"....Jeremy Weiss has the greatest card trick of ALL TIME!"--Jamie D. Grant.
<BR>Start listening to iTricks 11/12/09
Doug Higley
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1942 - 2022
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Are you kidding? I'm in it! Of course it's good!

Joe did a nice job....and since it's for the punters, he didn't REALLY give much away. Good photos too! You'll like it.Since it was some University Press that did it it doesn't have the wide promotion but it NEEDS to be on your shelf!!!!!!!

Here's Andy Nyman's review from

"A walk down the Midway, November 8, 2005
Joe Nickell's latest book, Secrets of the Sideshow is a thoroughly researched tome that is worth the cover price for the pictures alone.
The cover effectively uses a 'banner art' style with 'Frog Boy' charmingly gracing the spine. The title is a little misleading, it is not a revelatory guide or 'masked magician' type of book at all. More of a scholarly attempt to document a lost part of American theatre. Mr. Nickell's previous works were largely concerned with his role as editor of the Skeptical Enquirer. So deal with the Shroud of Turin, Bigfoot etc. Not having read any of those I cannot comment, but suffice to say that this history of bringing a scientific mind to apparent miracles may have impacted the choice of title. What is apparent is that he has a real love of this subject. He has worked the midway at various fairs as a magician and obviously the carnival world got into his blood. Relying heavily on interviews with carnival legends Ward Hall, Chris Christ and Bobby Reynolds the author details the history of this unique piece of Americana. Bobby Reynold's contributions are fairly ascerbic with a certain bitterness when compared to Ward Hall's more agreeable approach. No attempt appears to have been made to edit any of these contributions. There are copious references to other works, Ricky Jay, Daniel Mannix and Al Stencell are quoted liberally and these authors works would make excellent companion reads.
As one goes through the book the reader does learn how effects are achieved, the use of gaffs, fakery and general deception are discussed. However, this remains a secondary facet of this work. It is much more of a historical encyclopedia and includes a thorough list of references and detailed index. Overshadowing the mechanical 'How To' aspects of the book are the wonderful characters that one meets within its pages. Poobah the fire eating dwarf, Percilla the monkey girl, Doug Higley phantom of the midway and purveyor of Area 51 artifacts. [Of course they are real]. And numerous other fascinating people who often show more grace and dignity than the so called 'normal' specimens of the human family.
The writing style is a mixture of academic investigation and whimsical fan. Despite his natural instincts for scientific rigor the author's joy in the subject and obvious sadness at the demise of the sideshow shine through.
It ends on a positive and up to date note with a piece on the sideshow school at Coney Island, one of the last bastions of the traditional arts.
I reccomend this book to anyone whoever thought about running away to the circus and I enjoyed reading it tremendously.
PS. One small piece of pedantry. On page 214, Joe Nickell decribes the turn of the century magician Chung Ling Soo as an 'Englishman pretending to be a Chinaman'. In his excellent biography of Chung Ling Soo, The Glorious Deception, Jim Steinmeyer details Soo's life as an American who often pretended to be an Englishman, or more commonly a Scotsman pretending to be a Chinaman. Which goes to show that even a skeptical investigator can be confounded by a fellow conjurer, from beyond the grave to boot! My sense is that Mr. Nickell would be delighted."
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Profile of mrunge
Don't think twice. Run down to the bookstore and pick it up!

Actually, my local Barnes and Noble bookstore had to order it so I had to wait a few days, but it was well worth it.

It is a fantastic book. As Doug said, "it NEEDS to be on your shelf!!!!!!!"

Freak Prodigy
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Wonderful book, Barnes and Noble usually have it stocked.

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Profile of Addy
Doug's right. A friend of mine was wandering around B&N, spotted it and bought it for me. I didn't hear about it prior to his buying it. When he told me he bought me a sideshow book, I figured I had it already. It was a pleasant surprise. Great pictures and an enjoyable read.
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