In late May 2017, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s “Greatest Show on Earth,” heir to a circus created by P. T. Barnum 146 years before, turned its lights out for the final time. Those who missed news of the venerable circus’s closing can be forgiven. It came in the dizzying first months of the Trump presidency, with those scary stunts, clownish mishaps, and cast of freaks laying hourly claim to the world’s attention. Even the Greatest Show on Earth had a hard time breaking through.
But in the closing of the circus, the writer Les Standiford cleverly spotted the end of one of the great American showbiz stories. His book Battle for the Big Top: P.T. Barnum, James Bailey, John Ringling and the Death-Defying Saga of the American Circus is an entertaining business drama that places Barnum, Bailey, and Ringling in the pantheon of American media moguls.