Adventures in Words: The First Showman by Karl Shaw
It’s a real shame that this book seems to have died on the shelves. It tells the story of Philip Astley, showman extraordinaire, who astonished Georgian England, and indeed Europe, with his stunt riding skills as well as inventing a form of show, with lots of acts within a marked out oval, that was the origin of the modern circus. Astley was physically large and well built but his personality was even larger, while his life story, encompassing humble beginnngs, astonishing turns of fortune, fires, disasters, recoveries, is the stuff of a biographer’s dream.
Indeed, it’s such a vivid recreation of the man’s life and times that I earnestly wish more people would read it. Hearing of some of the stunts Astley and his team performed, one can only marvel at their skill and their courage – somersaults on the back of a galloping horse is merely par for the extraordinary course.
The book also offers a fascinating insight into the life of a Georgian entrepeneur, a man making his way into the expanding world of show business and, by his own energy and imagination, expanding it further. Highly recommended to anyone interested in the period or in the circus.