The Great Farini:|
The High-Wire Life of William Hunt
by Shane Peacock,
viii, 457 pages,
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|Brief reviews - Non-Fiction
by Laura Paquet
A DEVIL-MAY-CARE, flamboyant Canadian: the phrase doesn't exactly fit our cultural stereotype, does it? But then again, neither did William Hunt, better known to his Victorian-era fans as Signor Farini. In The Great Farini: The HighWire Life of William Hunt (Viking, 457 pages, $29.99 cloth), Shane Peacock has written a superb biography of this worldfamous acrobat, tightrope walker, impresario, explorer, inventor, author, and allround fascinating guy.
Hunt was the son of a prosperous fanner in Hope Township, east of Toronto. Chafing against the repressive society of Upper Canada and ravenous for thrills, he taught himself to walk on a high wire. In 1860, at the age of 22, he became the second man to cross the Niagara Gorge on a tightrope. From there, he went on to amaze audiences across North America and Europe. He performed heart-stopping aerobatics, became one of the first "human cannonballs," and ceaselessly fed the public's appetite for death-defying thrills.
Peacock's meticulously researched book brings Farmi's exploits vividly alive. It reads like a printed equivalent of those clifthanger movie serials -- you just can't wait to read what Farini did next. And that, one suspects, is exactly as the great man would have wanted it.