Book Review – Fair America by Rydell, Findling and Pelle

Title: Fair America
Author: Robert W. Rydell, John E. Findling and Kimberly D. Pelle
Format: Paperback Manga
Written: ?
Published: 2000

This is a depressing review to have to type.  Fair America is about the World’s Fairs in the United States.  It’s arranged simply enough, the four sections are different periods of time, with an intro and a conclusion.

I love World’s Fairs.  It’s a life dream to go to one someday.  Somewhere.  (The US will probably never get another one, sadly enough.)  I volunteer in a historic building left over from a similar event.  So when I caught Robert Rydell talking about these events on History TV (CSPAN 3, just so you know) I immediately rushed to the library to get his books.

And I was soooo disappointed.  The book is slim, about 150 pages, and even at its short length, I found myself not wanting to keep reading.

The three authors of this book are professors and editors and unfortunately, this reads like a text book.  I love non-fiction, but I prefer it to read like creative non-fiction.

Another major problem that I have is the suggestion that so many of these fairs were racist showings of white supremacy.  I don’t deny that the affluent and (certainly mostly) white committees that planned these events gave them a bit of a slant.   But suggestions made by the authors… well, they’re odd.  Mock battles, according to the authors, undermined Indian relations, information about the Civil War was slanted (hello, how?!), etc.

At the Tennessee Centennial in 1897, a diorama of the Battle of Gettysburg was one of the most popular attractions of the event, and regiments on both sides came together to reunite – not to chant about white supremacy or anything else. Hell, most of the cultural events that happened at a lot of these weren’t even mentioned.   (In fact, Tennessee’s centennial was glossed over and barely discussed at all.)

My favorite story of all the fairs was from the 1894 Columbian Expo (celebrating 400 years of America after Columbus landed) – Mr. Ferris himself paid for the engineering of the Ferris Wheel because he so believed in his vision.  In this book, the mention goes a little bit like “engineering like the Eiffel Tower and Ferris Wheel…”  Oooh, so they happened.  Thanks for bothering to write that at all!

In the end, I’m rating this book at 2 out of 5 pages.  I read the first third and the book sat here for two weeks where I just didn’t give a crap if I picked it up again or not.

If you’re doing research and need a book like this, it’s awesome and you should totally get it.  If you like books that feel like a term paper, it’s good then, too.  Unfortunately, if you want it as a fun read, you should probably look for something else.

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