The Giant and How He Humbugged America

Jim Murphy. Scholastic Press, $19.99 (112p) ISBN 978-0-439-69184-0
Americans eager for diversions in the post–Civil War era were easily taken in by showmen such as P.T. Barnum. In this book, Murphy (The Crossing: How George Washington Saved the American Revolution) explains how another hoodwinker, George Hull, masterminded the creation and “discovery” of a giant gypsum statue of a man that had people guessing at its origins—and paying handsomely to see it. The Cardiff Giant, named for the New York town where it was unearthed in 1869, drew thousands of spectators, who believed it to be a petrified man. It even caught the attention of Barnum, who built and made money off a replica. Although a significant number of players are involved, the narrative’s 12 chapters move swiftly, with period photos helping to break up the text-heavy pages (printed in brown ink). Contextualizing this scam against the wider backdrop of the Gilded Age, Murphy adeptly explains how hoaxes like the Cardiff Giant helped accelerate reforms, such as the establishment of professional scientific organizations and journals. Ages 10–14. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/17/2012
Release date: 10/01/2012
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