Contrary to legend, he never said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Phineas Taylor Barnum was a businessman, hoaxer, and impresario who provided entertainment to a nation hungry for it. “I am a showman by profession . . . and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me,” Barnum wrote defiantly in his autobiography. In an authoritative biography of Barnum, author Neil Harris, professor of history at the University of Chicago, describes the culture and climate of America in the 19th century that produced such an outsized, and sometimes outrageous, figure. Harris has written widely on various aspects of the evolution of American cultural life and on the social history of art and design.