A humorous, gossipy account of an unusual lifestyle.



In this memoir, a woman looks back at five years of traveling and teaching kids in the circus.

Of everyone who’s ever run away to join the circus, Radcliffe—“a very proper fifty-year-old lady from academia” and former country-club member—is one of the unlikeliest. But after divorce and an unsuccessful stint as a Spanish teacher to “large classes of aspiring delinquents,” she started tutoring children in the entertainment industry and was then invited to apply for a teaching job with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. Interested in new experiences, Radcliffe went for it. In her debut work, Radcliffe writes evocatively of cramped train compartments, bad smells, being too cold or too hot, and the difficulties of setting up classrooms anew in various towns. She reports on many behind-the-scenes glimpses of “the greatest show on earth”: the often troubled young men who do the heavy lifting; the performers’ routines and hierarchies; the seamy sides of many cities; and circus gossip, stories and scandals. Circus life, Radcliffe writes, is something like a village from centuries ago: Everyone knows “whose bastard the village drab had borne, who was stealing chickens, and whether the lord’s son preferred the shepherd, the shepherdess, or the sheep.” By the same token, “Circus children, on the whole, are warm, loving, and well-adjusted. These kids don’t just have one or two doting parents; they have more than three hundred.” Sometimes Radcliffe’s sympathies seem oddly placed. Writing of a cook who abandoned his family and joined the circus to avoid paying child support, she comments jauntily, “The circus won!” Hurray? She also breezily dismisses animal rights activists as “do-gooders” despite considerable evidence, including videos, of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey animals being abused with bullhooks, whips and electric prods. Elsewhere, though, Radcliffe is more sensitive to the darker undercurrents beneath the circus’s bright, spangled surface. In response to a jest, one of the guys says, “Hey, I’m not on the ten most-wanted list….I joined because nobody wanted me.” As Radcliffe says, “Sometimes a joke covers up a lot of pain.”

A humorous, gossipy account of an unusual lifestyle.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4827-0676-5

Page Count: 146

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.


Comprehensive, myth-busting examination of the Colorado high-school massacre.

“We remember Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened,” writes Cullen, a Denver-based journalist who has spent the past ten years investigating the 1999 attack. In fact, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold conceived of their act not as a targeted school shooting but as an elaborate three-part act of terrorism. First, propane bombs planted in the cafeteria would erupt during lunchtime, indiscriminately slaughtering hundreds of students. The killers, positioned outside the school’s main entrance, would then mow down fleeing survivors. Finally, after the media and rescue workers had arrived, timed bombs in the killers’ cars would explode, wiping out hundreds more. It was only when the bombs in the cafeteria failed to detonate that the killers entered the high school with sawed-off shotguns blazing. Drawing on a wealth of journals, videotapes, police reports and personal interviews, Cullen sketches multifaceted portraits of the killers and the surviving community. He portrays Harris as a calculating, egocentric psychopath, someone who labeled his journal “The Book of God” and harbored fantasies of exterminating the entire human race. In contrast, Klebold was a suicidal depressive, prone to fits of rage and extreme self-loathing. Together they forged a combustible and unequal alliance, with Harris channeling Klebold’s frustration and anger into his sadistic plans. The unnerving narrative is too often undermined by the author’s distracting tendency to weave the killers’ expressions into his sentences—for example, “The boys were shooting off their pipe bombs by then, and, man, were those things badass.” Cullen is better at depicting the attack’s aftermath. Poignant sections devoted to the survivors probe the myriad ways that individuals cope with grief and struggle to interpret and make sense of tragedy.

Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

Pub Date: April 6, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-54693-5

Page Count: 406

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2009

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The sub-title of this book is "Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools." But one finds in it little about education, and less about the teaching of English. Nor is this volume a defense of the Christian faith similar to other books from the pen of C. S. Lewis. The three lectures comprising the book are rather rambling talks about life and literature and philosophy. Those who have come to expect from Lewis penetrating satire and a subtle sense of humor, used to buttress a real Christian faith, will be disappointed.

Pub Date: April 8, 1947

ISBN: 1609421477

Page Count: -

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1947

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