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Here is our opinionated guide to the most essential books on the history of theatrical deception during The Golden Age of show business.

The three categories are:

1. Pro Wrestling History

2. Carnival & Sideshow History

3. Magic (Stage Conjuring) History





Please also refer to our unabridged bibliograpies:

History of Magic (Stage Conjuring)

History of Professional Wrestling

History of Carnivals and Sideshows

Carnival and Sideshow Books by Category

Pro Wrestling History Books:
Essential Reading
*The Top 12*
Carnival & Sideshow History Books:
Essential Reading
*The Top 20*

#1 Thesz, Lou; Bauman, Kit. Hooker: An Authentic Wrestler's Adventures Inside the World of Professional Wrestling (2001) Wrestling Channel, Seattle

Check Ebay and Amazon Marketplace for the Lou Thesz autobiography or you can buy it in an 8 1/2" x 11" spiral bound format at the International Wrestling Institute and Museum in Newton, Iowa


#2 Boesch, Paul. Hey Boy! Where'd You Get Them Ears (2001) published by author, Houston

The Paul Boesch book is written in the kayfabe style (does not reveal any secrets of the wrestling business) but is especially good history of the early to mid 20th century. You may be able to buy it from Minuteman Press, 9000 Southwest Freeway, Suite 100, Houston, Texas, 77074 713-541-2258, fax 713-541-5869


#3 Jares, Joe. Whatever Happened to Gorgeous George? (1974) Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

This is one of the most entertaining and well written books about the wrestling business in the mid 1900s, written by a
Sports Illustrated writer and son of a professional wrestler. One chapter is devoted to Gorgeous George.


#4 Teal, Scott. Whatever Happened to...? Vols. 1-53 and Shooting With the Legends (1993-2004) Crowbar, Hendersonville, TN

These titles are available directly from author Scott Teal at Crowbar Press. Scott Teal specializes in interviews with former wrestling stars and does an outstanding job of preserving the oral history of a bygone era of show business, giving the reader an inside view and an intimate sense of what it was like to be a part of professional wrestling entertainment during The Golden Age.


#5 Meltzer, Dave. Tributes: Remembering Some of the World's Greatest Wrestlers and Tributes II: Remembering More of the World's Greatest Wrestlers (2001/2004) Stewart House, Etobicoke, Ontario/Sports Publishing, Sports, Champaign, IL

Dave Meltzer is the best writer of wrestler's obituaries. The subjects of his two Tributes compilations are not all wrestlers of The Golden Age, but most are.


#6 Griffen, Marcus. Fall Guys, the Barnums of Bounce: The Inside Story of the Wrestling Business (1937) Reilly & Lee, Chicago

Fall Guys was the first book to expose at length the inner workings of the wrestling business. The original edition is now very rare and pricey but a reprint is available from Crowbar Press.


#7 Fleischer, Nat. From Milo to Londos, The Story of Wrestling Through the Ages (1936) Ring, New York

Unfortunately this classic sells for $200-$400, even on Ebay, as it rarely comes up for auction. Serious bibliophiles may want to check with a rare book dealer.


#8 Duncan, Royal; Will, Gary. Wrestling Title Histories (2000) Archeus, Waterloo, Ontario

This is the bible of wrestling titles and is instructive on many levels. At this printing new copies are no longer available from the authors. Click here to be directed to their site and learn why. This is an essential resource, so try to find a copy to add to your pro wrestling history library. The book appears on Ebay from time to time.


#9 Leen, Jeff. The Queen Of The Ring: Sex, Muscles, Diamonds, and the Making of an American Legend (2009) Grove/Atlantic, New York

Written by an investigative reporter at the
Washington Post, this well-documented book vividly reveals the less glamorous elements of the pro wrestling business during the early to mid twentieth century.


#10 Hewitt, Mark S., Catch Wrestling: A Wild and Wooly Look at the Early Days of Pro Wrestling in America (2005) Paladin, Boulder, and Catch Wrestling Round Two: More Wild and Wooly Tales from the Early Days of Pro Wrestling (2010) Paladin, Boulder



#11 Pallo, Jackie. You Grunt, I'll Groan: The Inside Story of Wrestling (1985) MacDonald Queen Anne, London

Our #11 and #12 selections feature the history of British Golden Age wrestling. Both books are now out of print. (See also "The History of British Wrestling" by John Lister, reprinted with his permission here at The House of Deception.)


#12 Garfield, Simon. The Wrestling (1997) Faber and Faber, London

Although this book is out of print, it is not difficult to find. It features some down-to-earth reminiscences of some of Britain's leading Golden Age grapplers.
#1 McKennon, Joe. Pictorial History of the American Carnival, Vol. I, II and III (1977/1981) Carnival Publishers of Sarasota, FL

These are must reads for the serious carnival and sideshow historian.


#2 Taylor, James; Kotcher, Kathleen. James Taylor's Shocked and Amazed: On & Off the Midway (2002) Lyons, Guilford, CT

This book is a compilation of selected chapters from Taylor's periodically published series of the same title. Serious students of sideshow history should endeavor to get all nine issues.


#3 Mannix, Daniel P. Memoirs of a Sword Swallower (1996) V/Search, San Francisco

This is a photo illustrated and expanded edition of a best selling book published in 1950 as
Step Right Up.


#4 Drimmer, Frederick. Very Special People: The Struggles, Loves andTriumphs of Human Oddities (1973) Amjon, New York and other editions

The world would be a better, more tolerant and peaceful place to live if this classic were required reading somewhere during grades 7-12.


#5 Mannix, Daniel P. Freaks: We Who Are Not As Others (2000) Re/Search, San Francisco, CA

This is another recent issue of a long out-of-print classic by Dan Mannix.


#6 Johnson, Randy; Meah, Johnny; Secreto, Jim; Varndell, Teddy. Freaks, Geeks and Strange Girls: Sideshow Banners of the Great American Midway (2000) Hardy Marks, Honolulu

This is the bible of sideshow banner art and artists, a fascinating read even for the nonartistic. Go here to get a personally inscribed copy from co-author Johnny Meah, The Czar of the Bizarre.


#7 Lewis, Arthur H. Carnival (1970) Trident, New York

If you have ever wanted to run away with the carnival you will want to find a copy of this book. Even though it is full of inaccuracies and outright lies, and is therefore despised by knowledgeable old carnies, it might be worth the read, but only if you take it with a grain of salt. It was written as an expose but is really mostly fiction.


#8 Hall, Ward. Struggles and Triumphs of a Modern Day Showman (1981) Carnival Publishers of Sarasota, FL

This is a fairly difficult book to obtain; Ebay may be your best chance to find it.


#9 Bogdan, Robert. Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit (1990) University of Chicago Press

Even though this is qualitative research written by a professor of sociology at Syracuse University, with hundreds of sources cited in a standard academic style, it is not too stuffy and is enjoyable to read.


#10 Gresham, William Lindsay. Monster Midway: An Uninhibited Look at the Glittering World of the Carny (1953) Rinehart, New York

This classic, written by the author of
Nightmare Alley and Houdini: The Man Who Walked Through Walls, may be expensive and difficult to obtain. Copies have sold on Ebay for over $200 but recently prices seem to be dropping. Note: all copies of this title have rather badly yellowed pages.


#11 Holtman, Jerry; Harry Lewiston. Freak Show Man: The Autobiography of Harry Lewiston (1968) Holloway House, Los Angeles, CA

Mixing fact, imagination, and plain old balderdash, Lewiston paints an energetic and earthy story of early 20th century outdoor show business.


#12 Mitchell, Michael. Monsters: Human Freaks in America's Gilded Age: The Photographs of Chas Eisenmann (2002) ECW, Toronto


#13 Bone, Howard. Side Show: My Life With Geeks, Freaks & Vagabonds in the Carny Trade (2001) Sun Dog, Northville, MI


#14 Barnum, P. T.; Bode, Carl (ed.). Struggles and Triumphs: Or, Forty Years' Recollections of P.T. Barnum (1981) Penguin, New York


#15 McKennon, Joe. Circus Lingo (1980) Carnival Publishers of Sarasota, FL

This title, written by the famed author of our #1 title, may be hard to find.


#16 Dufour, Lou; Kirby, Irwin. Fabulous Years: A Showman's Tales of Carnivals, World's Fairs, and Broadway (1977) Vantage, New York

This book crops up on Ebay two or three time a year. It's a must read from one of the really big names in carnival and world's fair entertainment.


#17 Dennett, Andrea Stulman. Wierd and Wonderful: The Dime Museum in America (1997) New York University Press

This well written book is at once scholarly and entertaining, covering the years leading up to the Golden Age of sideshow. A must for the P T Barnum enthusiast.


#18 Scott, Barbara Bamberger. With It: A Year On The Carnival Trail (2004) Behler, Lake Forest, CA

This endearing tale, written from a mother's point of view, is the true account of a young couple who hit the road for one season in the 1970s. A good read for anyone who has considered giving the carnival business a shot.


#19 Hall, Ward. My Very Unusual Friends (1991) author, Gibsonton, FL

This is another fairly difficult book to obtain. Ebay may be your best chance to find it. Or you might contact Ward Hall directly. He is one of the true gentlemen of the outdoor amusement business.


#20 Stencell, A. W. Seeing Is Believing: America's Side Shows (2002) ECW, Toronto


Magic History Books:
Essential Reading
*The Top 10*

#1 Price, David. Magic: A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theater (1985) Cornwall

Try the interlibrary loan desk at your local library to acquaint yourself with this essential volume.



#2 Christopher, Milbourne. The Illustrated History of Magic (1973) T. Y. Crowell Co., New York

A paperback reprint of this invaluable resource is now available at a very reasonable price.



#3 Clarke, Sidney W. The Annals of Conjuring (2001) Miracle Factory, Seattle

As with our #1 choice, you may want to try the interlibrary loan desk at your local library to borrow a reading copy of this required volume.



#4 Houdini, Harry. The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin (1908) Publishers Printing, New York



#5 Evans, Henry Ridgley. History of Conjuring and Magic (1928) International Brotherhood of Magicians, Kenton, OH



#6 Evans, Henry Ridgley. The Old and the New Magic (1906) Open Court, Chicago

The Evans titles are now rare and pricey, but worth the investment.



#7 Steinmeyer, Jim. Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear (2003) Carroll & Graf, New York

This book is widely available, both in hardback and softcover editions.



#8 Dawes, Edwin A. The Great Illusionists (1979) Chartwell, Secaucus, NJ

This title is out of print but widely available at reasonable prices.



#9 Dif, Max. Historie et Evolution Technique de la Prestidigitation (1972) Max Dif, Paris

This comprehensive and profusely illustrated French work will be very difficult to obtain. Reading proficiency in French is required. Searching rare book dealers in France may be your best bet.



#10 Silverman, Kenneth. Houdini!!!: The Career of Erich Weiss. (1997) Perennial, New York

This 465 page volume meets established scholastic standards of research and is considered by many to be the ultimate Houdini biography. Silverman was a Professor of English at New York University whose earlier biography of Cotton Mather won both the Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes.
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