The Giant and How He Humbugged America by Jim Murphy

The Giant and How He Humbugged America - Jim Murphy


*4.3 Stars*

Scorecard: (Out of 10)
* Quality of Writing - 8
* Pace - 8
* Plot development - 9
* Characters - 8
* Enjoyability - 9
* Insightfulness - 8
* Ease of Reading - 10
* Photos/Illustrations - 9
Final Score: 69/80 = 86%

*The Gush*


Perhaps I should point out that I love learning about historical and/or artifact frauds; it’s something that for some strange reason I personally find fascinating. If you don’t…probably not the book for you.


So…Here we go!


Having read two other books Jim Murphy has done, I knew I was getting a well-researched and engaging popular history book for older children and teens that would leave me wishing desperately it had been written when I was a child. I hated children’s history books and at an early age was reading books far above my age level because I learned nothing from the non-fiction crude that was put out for my age group. They treated me like I was stupid, so I ignored them. I was basically convinced it was impossible to create a good children’s history book. Murphy proved me wrong, and I have never been so glad to be so.

Most people know of P. T. Barnum and his track record of bizarre hoaxes and showmanship and while he does feature in this book, but he is secondary to the players in this strange drama whose conclusion is forgone but it is all about keeping the plates in the air for as long as possible. Murphy chronicles this from the ‘discovery’ of the Cardiff Giant through the popular fervor, the rush to wring all possible monies from this sensation, the copies, the attempts for the truth to come forth, and finally the moment of undeniable truth. One of the interesting and best choices the author made was to explain the creation of this giant hoax and who was involved and who was taken in. This allows the reader to then become part of the conspiracy and watch the rest of the experience unfold from the position of one in the know. Like them, you are laughing at the fools that are being taken in and waiting to see when the hoax will be found out. You have not, however, been in the know from the beginning and are not gaining monetarily from it, so the guilt is not there-a greater position then others were in though most seemed not to care about lying and stealing people’s money.

One of the other excellent choices was the layout of the book. Each chapter starts out like the headlines of a newspaper with the text then lining out into two panels on each page, just like newspapers of the day. With the almost brown look of the text, the idea that you are reading this as a newspaper story is further emphasized. As most people in America were introduced and followed the Giant through newsprint, this further pulls the reader into the time period, as if they are reading it at the time. The text, however, is simple and uses the past tense with the author talking about reasons and suppositions that time alone can bestow. He carries it enough for the reader to be pulled in, but not enough to confuse them.

Another part of the book that I really enjoyed was first the talk about the multitude of odd situations (many of them turning out to be hoaxes) that had taken place in the region, such as the Fox sisters with their spiritualism and the Silver Lake Monster. The second part was at the last of the book where other hoaxes through the ages were discussed. This included Piltdown Man, so called Missing Links, and Shinichi Fujimura with the author concluding that people as a whole often see what they want to see and this aids people in perpetuating their hoaxes.

*The Rant*

My biggest rant is that while he provided source notes, there were no numbers to link them; no footnotes or anything of the kind. I realize this is popular history but if you provide them I feel you should have a way to link the exact location in the text to the note. I know some people find them annoying but I trust a book more when the author provides this extra glimpse into his work. As I noted concerning another book, I’m a nerd.


READ! Another excellent older children and teen’s history book and one that most people should find interesting. The author at the end drawing a connection between this and the Madoff scandal helped me see the book in a new light.



Reading Progress (from GR)


06/01/2013 page 28   25.0% "BOOK OVERLOAD! Just left the Library with a stuffed bag and a reading list thrown out the window! So many books that had been languishing on my want to read list!"
06/01/2013 page 74   66.0% "It's sad that people were dupped by frauds such as the Cardiff Giant but I have always found them fascinating to learn about. And anything with PT Barnum in it is sure to be fun!"