Here is a list of some books about the sideshow and carnival life that you might enjoy:
Struggles and Triumphs of a Modern Day Showman and My Very Unusual Friends.
These are Ward Hall’s two books. The first is Ward’s autobiography and was published by Carnival Publishing of Sarasota. This was the late Joe McKennon’s company. Both books come up on eBay from time to time.
A.W. Stencell’s Girl Show and Seeing is Believing.
These are both about carnival shows. The first cronicles the strip shows that played on the midway and the second is about grind shows. Al Stencell is currently working on a book about the history of the carnival Ten-In-Ones. Both are published by ECW Press.
Shocked & Amazed by James Taylor (Dolphin Moon Press) There are a number of volumes of these bookazines. There is also currently available a compilation of the early out of print and hard to find volumes. These are very worthy reads.
American Sideshow by Marc Hartzman (Tarcher)
This is a nice overview of sideshow performers past and present. A good resource book and a fun read.
Secrets of the Sideshow by Joe Nickell (University of Kentucky)
A well researched book about the in and outs of the world of the sideshow. It is a good history book and paints a complete picture of what the sideshow is all about.
Carny Folk by Francine Homberger (Citadel)
What I like about this book is that it not only talks about the people in the world of the sideshow, but it also presents them as true three dimensional human beings.
Freakshow by Robert Bogdan. Published by the University of Chicago Press.
This an overview of the way human oddities have been presented. This is a thorough but very biased book written by a college professor. It does not paint a favorable picture of the showmen of the past. If you can cut through Bogdan’s point of view, it is a good historical resource.
Freaks, Geek & Strange Girls and Freak Show.
The first is published by Handy Marks Publications and the latter is put out by Chronicle Books. These to books deal with sideshow banner art. Both are wonderfully illustrated.
Memoirs of a Sword Swallower and Freaks: We Who Are Not As Others.
Both were written by Daniel P. Mannix. The first one is published by V/Search Publications and the second one Re/Search Publications. Though they have slightly different names, they seem to be the same company. Memoirs is just that and the other book chronicles human oddities. Memoirs has inspired many, including Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller, to pursue learning sideshow skills.
Freak Like Me by Jim Rose (Dell Trade Paperback) and Circus of the Scars by Jan Gregor (Dalsgard Publishers)
Two very different tellings of the story of the rise of the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow.
Weird & Wonderful by Andrea Stulman Dennett (NY University Press).
This is a historical overview of the precursor to the sideshow, the dime museum.
Freakery-Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body
This book is book was edited by Rosemarie Garland Thomson and published by New York University Press. It is a series of essays on freaks. Nothing within this book gives you a sense of why sideshows were entertaining.
Sideshow (Sun Dog Press) and Hurry, Hurry, Hurry (Dragon Fire & Magic).
These two books were written by sideshow magician and performer Howard Bone. The first book is his memoirs of life in the carnival and the second is a book explaining how to do some of the acts he perfromed.
Gahan Wilson’s The Big Book of Freaks (Paradox Press).
This is a very entertaining book of graphic novel/comic book telling of the history of various freaks. Great artwork in many different styles.
Step Right This Way (Friedman/Fairfax)
This is a book of the photos of Edward J. Kelty. He photographed many sideshows and circuses back in the 1920s and 30s. It is a beautiful book.
Grind Show (American-Independent Press)
Film maker Fred Olen Ray wrote this short book about Single-Os. It is a hard book to find, but worth the looking for.
Carnival (Pocket Books)
Arthur H. Lewis wrote this book about life with the carnival. It has a good deal of material about the showman Slim Kelley. This book is out of print.
Monster Midway by William Lindsay Gresham (Rinehart & Co.)
The author of the classic Nightmare Alley wrote this book. It is a series of articles about various aspect of the carnival. It’s a great book and unfortunately out of print.