Bruce Feiler first dreamed of joining a
circus when he was 12. While attending summer camp, his counselor taught him to juggle
oranges. Ever since, he had the desire to perform in the center ring. This book takes his
readers with him to that center ring.
At 27, Feiler set out in pursuit of his dream. But this time it
was more than juggling. After graduating from Yale University, he decided to spend a year
with the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus, recording his adventures as a clown. His
recordings became Under the Big Top.
Feiler presents an unvarnished, unromantic view of circus life.
He takes his readers inside the tents and trailers of stoic circus performers like Khris
Allen, tiger trainer, and Venko Lilov, Russian bear trainer; Jimmy James, ringmaster, and
Buck, the clown. He shows the anxiety of learning a new trick on the flying trapeze or
stepping into a cage full of wild cats.
He gives his readers an uncensored look in the secret, often
seedy, private lives of these performers, filled with sacrifice, sex and even death.
"From the ground the circus often seemed to be a cauldron on
the verge of bubbling out of control," said Feiler, as he climbed to the top of the
Big Top to fulfill his last rite as a First of May, a rookie in circus lingo.
While masterfully weaving the story of the circus with those of
its performers, he creates a riveting portrait of the marginal world of the circus as it
collides with the everyday world of suburban America. As the first writer to penetrate the
sheltered circus community, he combines evocative anecdotes with detailed portraits,
revealing how the American circus dream came to be.
This is "a story of a group of people who came from various
lands in pursuit of a common dreama dream to do what they wanted in a place that was
free, a desire to carve out a little corner of the world where they could be
But that dream has its dark side, too. Feiler relates the story
of a young man, drunk out of his mind, who got crushed by one of the elephants when he
attempted to pet her while she slept. The startled elephant swung her head around and
knocked the guy into the side of a truck, puncturing his heart and one of his lungs.
Written with passion and compassion, this magnificent book is for
all those whove had Feilers circus dream but never got to fulfill