Great Books About Magicians or Circuses

shelved under Americana, Miscellaneous, and Fiction

For some reason, recently I've been reading lots of books about magicians... and circuses. I'm not sure why. I'm not even sure why they go together so well, but they do. Here're some books I loved about one or the other:


Carter Beats the Devil

by Glen David Gold

This sweeping, beautiful story, set in San Francisco in the early 20th century, has so much going for it — childhood longings, world travels, magicians, pirates, famous literary figures, and some of the sharpest story and dialogue I've read in ages. There's a reason this book was hugely, hugely popular and successful, and I truly wish it had never come to an end.

This book also appears on Eric Mueller's Favorite Books


Water for Elephants

by Sara Gruen

Renee R. from Aiken, SC says:

I'd always wanted to be in the circus growing up. Reading this book made me feel like I was a part of the carnival life when such a life was perhaps the most difficult. This story made me fall in love with the circus all over again. This is a beautiful story with characters so well-developed, I found myself cheering out loud at every calamity that befalls the villain.


The Prestige

by Christopher Priest

A terrific novel which happened to be made into a big movie (starring Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson and Christian Bale) in 2006. Set in 1878 and the story of two rival magicians, it's fantastic with some great twists. Check out the Amazon reviews — everyone raves, and so do I.


Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear

by Jim Steinmeyer, foreword by Teller

This fantastic, fascinating book not only gives a lush, well-researched history of magic but also the intersection of magic and spiritualism, as well as the history of specific illusions... for example, an entire chapter is devoted to the genesis of levitation and the various methods and tricks used by magicians to produce the effect over the years. Not only does this reveal all the secrets, it shows a reverence and well-researched love of magic. If you're at all interested in magic, you'll probably find this book as absolutely engrossing as I did.

This book also appears on Eric Mueller's Favorite Books


Geek Love

by Katherine Dunn

This National Book Award nominee is an endearing book about sideshow freaks... but even if you removed all the fascinating, twisted and unforgettable aspects of the characters, you'd still be left with one of the sweetest stories ever.


The Circus in Winter

by Cathy Day

This is a lovely collection of essays about a down-and-out circus, set in the late 1800s/early 1900s (and in one essay, advancing all the way to the current day). The stories include different characters who weave their way in and out of each stories; while each essay stands alone, you can see how they all tie together to paint an interesting, spanning picture of the circus, its people and surroundings. The author evokes a melancholy, almost wistful tone that made me savor each of the brief chapters.

This book also appears on Books About Simpler Times


The Night Circus

by Erin Morgenstern

What a spooky, delightful, enchanting (and slightly dark) book about the Night Circus... with a lovely love story placed gently right in the center. The heart of the story is of two magicians who are battling and have been a part of the game— which they don't know anything about other than they're in a game— since they were children. Gorgeous writing.