A promising young historian with a taste for the exotic.
PRAISE FOR THE WONDERS
A wonderfully rich, compassionate and pungent potpourri of the extraordinary, the unusual and the rare. Turns our notions of Victorian prudery, propriety and voyeurism upside down. Brilliantly researched and written with great verve.
Neil McKenna, author of Fanny and Stella and The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde
John Woolf's book is an intriguing and fascinating look into the world of "freaks"; beautifully researched and well written.
Richard Butchins, Award winning artist and disabled filmmaker
As an actor and writer who has also performed in contemporary freak shows for many years, I find this book a refreshingly integrated and balanced account of these amazing lives.
Mat Fraser, actor, writer, Disability Artist and actor in American Horror Story: Freak Show
There is so much to see at the Freak Show which Woolf provides his readers; and he makes it clear that it does the memory of these amazing artists a disservice to avert your eyes.
Therese Oneill, author of Unmentionable
The Wonders shines a bright light on the real human experiences behind Victorian freak spectacles. With carefully-researched historical detail and a knack for storytelling, Woolf reveals the off-stage struggles and success for a series of performers known mainly for their unusual bodies. The Wonders traces the development of the freak show from its roots in the royal courts of Europe, to the fairs and travelling entertainments of the British working class, and across the Atlantic to the museums and circuses of America. Along the way, it uncovers the surprising complexity of life in the freak show—a life in which exploitation, empowerment, and economic opportunity can be hard to untangle.
Dr Lilian Craton, author of The Victorian Freak Show
John Woolf’s book will dazzle you with details of extraordinary lives, long underestimated by history.
Matthew Sweet, broadcaster and author of Inventing the Victorians
Explores with subtlety and consideration the many facets of humanity's strangeness. A really excellent book and an important study of the physically marginalised and neglected.
Clive Bloom, author of Victoria's Madmen
This dazzling dive into the history of circuses and freak shows will shock and astonish. Rigorously researched and sensitively written.
Waterstones, Piccadilly, London
REVIEWS OF THE WONDERS
This is a remarkable book. Woolf writes sensitively and engagingly about the exploitation of freaks...Woolf gives his readers many insights...extensive scholarship.
THE TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION
[A] lively debut...Woolf balances his colorful, detailed storytelling with sharp-eyed cultural unpacking...This rich, resonant cultural history takes a solid look at the oft-explosive intersections of commerce, wonder, ethnicity, and morality.
The Wonders introduces readers to a world of supreme spectacle...It’s full of fascinating, tragic, thought-provoking and heart-warming real life stories of people who embraced their differences, using their disabilities to their advantage and becoming celebrities in their own right.
Woolf provides a detailed history of the freak show. He has clearly done extensive, academic research for The Wonders but somehow manages to keep it captivating and easy to read. It is clear to see that he is passionate about the topic and he approaches the discussion around the performers and the freak show in an appropriate and humane manner, transforming the so-called 'freaks' into people and giving their lives the recognition they deserve.
ALL ABOUT HISTORY MAGAZINE
Nuanced and complex, Woolf deftly shows there are stories of empowerment alongside those of exploitation. Woolf gives these marginalised performers a voice - a voice that was rarely heard in life.
BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE
Historically, freak show performers have been reduced to mere objects of fascination, but by focusing on the details of their lives, Woolf here gives voice to the members of this long-exploited minority.
THE TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT
PRAISE FOR STEPHEN FRY'S VICTORIAN SECRETS
Scandalous bedtime storyteller Stephen Fry's new podcast bursts the image of the Victorians as prudish and pious... Debauchery, told with delicious relish.
Fantastic...[from] the ever eloquent Stephen Fry.
BBC RADIO 4
EARPHONE AWARDS WINNER