ISBN-10:
0674005910
ISBN-13:
9780674005914
Pub. Date:
07/15/2001
Publisher:
Harvard
The Arts of Deception: Playing with Fraud in the Age of Barnum / Edition 1

The Arts of Deception: Playing with Fraud in the Age of Barnum / Edition 1

by James W. Cook
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Overview

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 nineteenth-century America's new middle class, producing some of the most remarkable urban spectacles of the century.

In The Arts of Deception, 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. We are brought into the exhibition halls, theaters, galleries, and museums where imposture flourished, and into the minds of the curiosity-seekers who eagerly debated the wonders before their eyes. 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674005914
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 07/15/2001
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 466,847
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

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

Table of Contents

Introduction: Thinking with Tricks

1. The Death and Rebirth of the Automaton Chess-Player

2. The Feejee Mermaid and the Market Revolution

3. Describing the Nondescript

4. Modern Magic

5. Queer Art Illusions

Epilogue: Barnum's Ghosts

Notes

Index

What People are Saying About This

James Cook's The Arts of Deception is an exceptionally fine achievement in cultural history, characterized throughout by artful use of narrative detail and sophisticated, supple interpretation. It is a delight to read and ponder, full of fascinating stories and fresh insights into American market society--one of the most illuminating accounts I have ever seen of the confidence games at the core of our culture.

John F. Kasson author of Houdini

The Arts of Deception is a delight. James Cook's study combines fascinating stories and characters, thorough scholarship, and profound insights into nineteenth-century popular culture.
John F. Kasson author of Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man: The White Male Body and the Challenge of Modernity in America

Shane White co-author of Stylin': African- Suit

The Arts of Deception is a gracefully written and intriguing book. James Cook's well-told stories reveal a new and exciting way of looking at the culture of this dynamically expanding society. Anyone interested in the history of nineteenth-century America will read this book with pleasure and considerable profit.

Eric Lott

An eloquent, wide-ranging, and above all honest cultural study of the American hunger for fraud.
Eric Lott, author of Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class

Jackson Lears author of Fables of Abundance: America

James Cook's The Arts of Deception is an exceptionally fine achievement in cultural history, characterized throughout by artful use of narrative detail and sophisticated, supple interpretation. It is a delight to read and ponder, full of fascinating stories and fresh insights into American market society--one of the most illuminating accounts I have ever seen of the confidence games at the core of our culture.

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