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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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Katherine Coble
    Oct 15, 2012 @ 17:48:25

    I’m assuming you’ve read _The Devil & The White City_. That is the DREAM book about World’s Fairs.

    Interesting tidbit: Walt Disney’s father worked on the St. Louis World’s Fair when Disney was a boy. Much of the Magic Kingdom and the whole Disneyland/WDW aesthetic is based on that WF and the special place it had in Disney’s heart and imagination.

    Reply

  2. Mandi M. Lynch, author
    Oct 16, 2012 @ 00:43:56

    I have. Devil in the White City is hands down my favorite book about World’s Fairs. Actually, it’s easily in my top 10 favorite books of all time.

    Reply

  3. Felicia
    Nov 07, 2012 @ 05:25:18

    There’s a surprising lack of inventive works about world’s fairs. Lots of factual histories, lots of photographic collections. Very few novels, to be sure- Devil in the White City is a rarity. I enjoyed John Alwood’s “The Great Exhibitions” but it definitely has an educational edge, and is not an “escape” book.

    A different way to go about it is to read travel diaries and newspaper articles from the era. Don’t know what languages you speak, but there’s a good number of authors from all over the world who went to world’s fairs to cover them for the press in their home nations. You can find the original texts in compilation form at university libraries. Another fun way to learn more about what it was like to go to a fair is through the visitor guides that were released with each event.

    Reply

    • Mandi M. Lynch, author
      Nov 07, 2012 @ 06:28:24

      I could suffer through a few paragraphs of basic French, but not enough to do me any good, so I’m stuck with books and the like.

      The problem with this specific book was that it was written by academics. They presented it like a college lecture and all the cool stories that I would have liked to have heard were the ones where they glossed over them with “Oh, right. Nashville had a fair…” or some other similar story. For me, the thing that has always made world’s fairs amazing is the innovation that came out of them and the way that they changed how people looked at the world. This book glossed over all of that.

      Reply

      • Felicia
        Nov 07, 2012 @ 06:42:58

        Yes, I get it. I wish I had a better recommendation for you but unfortunately all the first-hand accounts I’ve read in the past were in Spanish or French! There’s likely something out there in English, I just don’t know what it is!

      • Mandi M. Lynch, author
        Nov 07, 2012 @ 17:15:29

        Thanks for trying. Maybe it’s time to research for the next 20 years and write my own. lol!

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