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Ingenious automatons which appeared to think on their own. Dubious mermaids and wild men who resisted classification. Elegant sleight-of-hand artists who routinely exposed the secrets of their trade. These were some of the playful forms of fraud which astonished, titillated, and even outraged 19th-century America's new middle class, producing some of the most remarkable urban spectacles of the century. In this text, James W. Cook explores this distinctly modern mode of trickery designed to puzzle the eye and challenge the brain. Championed by the "Prince of Humbug," P.T. Barnum, these cultural puzzles confused the line between reality and illusion. Upsetting the normally strict boundaries of value, race, class, and truth, the spectacles offer a revealing look at the tastes, concerns, and prejudices of America's very first mass audiences. Cook creates an original portrait of a culture in which ambiguous objects, images, and acts on display helped define a new value system for the expanding middle class, as it confronted a complex and confusing world.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780674005914
ISBN-10: 0674005910
Format: Paperback
(235mm x 155mm x 23mm)
Pages: 336
Imprint: Harvard University Press
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publish Date: 25-Jun-2001
Country of Publication: United States

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Author Biography - James W. Cook

James W. Cook is Assistant Professor of History and American Culture at the University of Michigan.

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