Topsy: The Startling Story of the Crooked Tailed Elephant, P.T. Barnum, and the American Wizard, Thomas Edison

Michael Daly. Atlantic Monthly, $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8021-1904-9
In this bizarre and remarkable dual history, journalist Daly (The Book of Mychal) weaves together the stories of two turn-of-the-century rivalries. Circus entrepreneurs P.T. Barnum and Adam Forepaugh wrangle over who will be the biggest in the big-top business by flaunting their best pachyderms, while Thomas Edison, a proponent of direct-current (DC) electricity, fights to convince New York state to conduct its electrocutions via alternating current (AC) in an attempt to smear his rival, AC advocate George Westinghouse. Set against the backdrop of a New York City busily building itself up to meet the demands of a new, electrified era—an evolution that included the construction of the famous Luna Park in Brooklyn and the renovation of Madison Square Garden—these two rivalries finally intersect in a horrifying and gruesome public execution on Coney Island in 1903. Having claimed three men’s lives over the course of her career, Forepaugh’s prized elephant, Topsy, was executed by poisoning, hanging, and electrocution (via AC current)—all at the same time. Edison proudly filmed it—“the first actual snuff film”—and used it as propaganda against Westinghouse. Daly’s fascinating, nuanced portraits of the seedy sides of the circus’s heyday and the dawn of the electric age makes for incredibly entertaining reading. Agent: Philippa Brophy, Sterling Lord Literistic. (July)
Reviewed on: 04/15/2013
Release date: 07/01/2013
Show other formats
Paperback - 369 pages - 978-0-8021-4605-2
Compact Disc - 978-1-4821-0123-2
Stay ahead with
Tip Sheet!
Free newsletter: the hottest new books, features and more
Only $18.95/month for Digital Access
or $20.95 for Print+Digital Access!
Only $18.95/month for Digital Access
or $20.95 for Print+Digital Access!
Email Address


Log In Lost Password

PW has integrated its print and digital subscriptions, offering exciting new benefits to subscribers, who are now entitled to both the print edition and the digital editions of PW (online or via our app). For instructions on how to set up your accout for digital access, click here. For more information, click here.

The part of the site you are trying to access is now available to subscribers only. Subscribers: to set up your digital subscription with the new system (if you have not done so already), click here. To subscribe, click here.

Email with questions.

Not Registered? Click here.