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Inseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous with American History

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Nearly a decade after his triumphant Charlie Chan biography, Yunte Huang returns with this long-awaited portrait of Chang and Eng Bunker (1811–1874), twins conjoined at the sternum by a band of cartilage and a fused liver, who were “discovered” in Siam by a British merchant in 1824. Bringing an Asian American perspective to this almost implausible story, Huang depicts the twins, Nearly a decade after his triumphant Charlie Chan biography, Yunte Huang returns with this long-awaited portrait of Chang and Eng Bunker (1811–1874), twins conjoined at the sternum by a band of cartilage and a fused liver, who were “discovered” in Siam by a British merchant in 1824. Bringing an Asian American perspective to this almost implausible story, Huang depicts the twins, arriving in Boston in 1829, first as museum exhibits but later as financially savvy showmen who gained their freedom and traveled the backroads of rural America to bring “entertainment” to the Jacksonian mobs. Their rise from subhuman, freak-show celebrities to rich southern gentry; their marriage to two white sisters, resulting in twenty-one children; and their owning of slaves, is here not just another sensational biography but a Hawthorne-like excavation of America’s historical penchant for finding feast in the abnormal, for tyrannizing the “other”—a tradition that, as Huang reveals, becomes inseparable from American history itself.


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Nearly a decade after his triumphant Charlie Chan biography, Yunte Huang returns with this long-awaited portrait of Chang and Eng Bunker (1811–1874), twins conjoined at the sternum by a band of cartilage and a fused liver, who were “discovered” in Siam by a British merchant in 1824. Bringing an Asian American perspective to this almost implausible story, Huang depicts the twins, Nearly a decade after his triumphant Charlie Chan biography, Yunte Huang returns with this long-awaited portrait of Chang and Eng Bunker (1811–1874), twins conjoined at the sternum by a band of cartilage and a fused liver, who were “discovered” in Siam by a British merchant in 1824. Bringing an Asian American perspective to this almost implausible story, Huang depicts the twins, arriving in Boston in 1829, first as museum exhibits but later as financially savvy showmen who gained their freedom and traveled the backroads of rural America to bring “entertainment” to the Jacksonian mobs. Their rise from subhuman, freak-show celebrities to rich southern gentry; their marriage to two white sisters, resulting in twenty-one children; and their owning of slaves, is here not just another sensational biography but a Hawthorne-like excavation of America’s historical penchant for finding feast in the abnormal, for tyrannizing the “other”—a tradition that, as Huang reveals, becomes inseparable from American history itself.

30 review for Inseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous with American History

  1. 4 out of 5

    MAP

    I received this book as a Goodreads Giveaway. Objectively, this is at least 4 star books. However, in terms of my personal enjoyment of it, 3 stars. This is truly a "the life and times of Chang and Eng" type of book, as opposed to a traditional biography. Although the book is centered on the brothers, much of the book focuses on the zeitgeist and context of the 19th century US that surrounded them. So an average chapter may have some information on say, the traveling route of the brothers, and the I received this book as a Goodreads Giveaway. Objectively, this is at least 4 star books. However, in terms of my personal enjoyment of it, 3 stars. This is truly a "the life and times of Chang and Eng" type of book, as opposed to a traditional biography. Although the book is centered on the brothers, much of the book focuses on the zeitgeist and context of the 19th century US that surrounded them. So an average chapter may have some information on say, the traveling route of the brothers, and then branch off into other people who would have been also traveling along the same routes, or descriptions by various people about the conditions of the roads during that time, and that sort of thing. Mini-biographies of other noted people who either interacted with Chang and Eng or who would have been nearby or who simply expressed an interest in the brothers are scattered throughout (for example Mark Twain, PT Barnum, Edgar Allan Poe.) My main struggle with the book was that I enjoy biographies for the purposes of getting into the heads of the subjects of those biographies. Unfortunately, it appears Chang and Eng did not engage in much correspondence, and certainly did not appear to give candid interviews. Therefore, we ultimately get very little insight into the twins' personalities, likes/dislikes, etc. Much of the biographical content from the first 200 pages comes from financial ledgers - lists of where they went, how much they earned, and what they spent. So for me, the zeitgeist part always feels like padding when there's not enough biographical information to go around. (I know that "life and times" biographies are perfectly legitimate and a valid form of biography; it's just than whenever I encounter them hoping for a more traditional biography, my emotional reaction is to feel annoyed at the times to life ratio.) If you are someone who genuinely enjoys "life and times of" type biographies, then this is an incredibly well-written book. If you prefer more personal looks at the subjects, you may find this book wanting.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Keith Chawgo

    Inseparable is a biography about the original Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng Bunker. The story reminds me of the Elephant Man but Huang has lovingly researched his subject matter with an incredible thorough hand. The Bunker twins lived from 1811 to 1874. The story follows from their birth to their eventual death and their tour throughout America during this time. Lovingly told through emotional highs and lows, this is an incredible story that garners one to delve into their lives. Heartbreak, horr Inseparable is a biography about the original Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng Bunker. The story reminds me of the Elephant Man but Huang has lovingly researched his subject matter with an incredible thorough hand. The Bunker twins lived from 1811 to 1874. The story follows from their birth to their eventual death and their tour throughout America during this time. Lovingly told through emotional highs and lows, this is an incredible story that garners one to delve into their lives. Heartbreak, horror, comedy, darkness and light, all aspects of life are on show and it is a testament to this incredible pair. The book is very readable and I was so involved with finding out about the Bunker twins that I could not get enough. I was in awe of this incredible biography. Imagine life in the 1800’s, before acceptance and political correctness and being born with a genetic defect that stands out from the crowd. Huang is able to look at their lives and how they had made their mark on life. This is a phenomenal book and one that I urge many to read. Huang is top of his game when chronicling the lives of these two men. If you are looking for a biography that goes beyond just pointed facts, I urge to you to give this try just for the depth of the emotion alone sets this apart from so many biographies. This is a true winner.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    I received a free copy of this book from Goodreads Giveaways. I had never read an in-depth story about Chang and Eng Bunker, the original "Siamese Twins" and the impetus for the commonly used phrase. I had heard of them, of course, and seen things on The Mutter Museum in Philadelphia about their shared liver, but never actually read about them as people. This is a well-researched, in-depth, but not overwhelming look at their lives which includes insightful commentary about the world and the natio I received a free copy of this book from Goodreads Giveaways. I had never read an in-depth story about Chang and Eng Bunker, the original "Siamese Twins" and the impetus for the commonly used phrase. I had heard of them, of course, and seen things on The Mutter Museum in Philadelphia about their shared liver, but never actually read about them as people. This is a well-researched, in-depth, but not overwhelming look at their lives which includes insightful commentary about the world and the nation in which they lived. Of particular interest, especially now, is the twins' transformation from slave-held to slave-holders and the way in which they likely saw themselves in the world versus the way the world saw them. Their twilight years as landed gentry in the South, particularly during the Civil War, were fascinating to read about. Huang's writing is engaging and interesting, and the wrap-up Epilogue comparing Mayberry (Mt. Airy North Carolina, where the twins lived those twilight years) to the real world of the 50's and 60's is an excellent cap on the entire tale. Highly recommend checking this book out when it's published.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Krista

    I am glad that l listened to this book because it would have been a laborious read! A huge tome with such extensive research- it is an impressive amount of work and l know more than l ever wanted to about Chang and Eng Bunker. This could have also been a biography on Mark Twain or P. T. Barnum or Nat Turner and his slave uprising, so much of their stories were also included. He also covered the Civil War and minstrel shows and the use of blackface extensively. I give it three stars because of th I am glad that l listened to this book because it would have been a laborious read! A huge tome with such extensive research- it is an impressive amount of work and l know more than l ever wanted to about Chang and Eng Bunker. This could have also been a biography on Mark Twain or P. T. Barnum or Nat Turner and his slave uprising, so much of their stories were also included. He also covered the Civil War and minstrel shows and the use of blackface extensively. I give it three stars because of this great amount of research, but it just wore me out too much for anymore stars than that.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Karyl

    As a kid, one of my favorite things to do was to wend my way through the Guinness Book of World Records, and I believe it was there that I first came across Chang and Eng as conjoined twins. As with most of America at the time they were living, I was fascinated by how they could live ordinary lives even as they were attached to one another. A few weeks ago, I heard an interview on NPR with the author and knew I had to request this book. This is a fascinating look at not only the lives of Chang a As a kid, one of my favorite things to do was to wend my way through the Guinness Book of World Records, and I believe it was there that I first came across Chang and Eng as conjoined twins. As with most of America at the time they were living, I was fascinated by how they could live ordinary lives even as they were attached to one another. A few weeks ago, I heard an interview on NPR with the author and knew I had to request this book. This is a fascinating look at not only the lives of Chang and Eng and how they came to be slave-holding members of North Carolina society from a tiny village in Siam, but also what was going on in the world during this time. We get a sense of what life was like in Siam on the river, the dense smog of newly industrialized London, New York City before it became a sprawling metropolis. We learn of the twins' fight for independence from the man who bought them in Siam, and the surprising way they managed to marry and live ordinary lives in the hills of North Carolina. It is clear that Huang spent a lot of time and effort on researching this book. The issue is there's not a whole lot of the personality of the twins. It could be that they didn't write all that often. Perhaps they didn't keep diaries. But by the end of the book, all we know about the twins personally is that Chang was a hard drinker and Eng was a teetotaler, and that they both had a temper that could flare up at times. I wish there were more about who the men were as people so we could get to know them more. I did enjoy the way in which Huang managed to tie Mayberry, a place of whiteness and rose-colored glasses, to Mount Airy, home of the twins, and how the town managed to welcome someone who wasn't just not white, but a freak of nature as well. But there is quite a lot of information in this book, and at times it felt a little overwhelming. Highly recommended.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nalene

    I received an advanced copy of this book courtesy of a Goodreads giveaway. If I could give it a 4.5, I would (only because I am very stingy with 5s). This is a well-written and impressively researched examination of the lives of the conjoined twins of Siam, Chang and Eng (Bunker). But it is about so much more than those brothers. It examines relevant ancillary issues and events in American culture and history preceding and during the Civil War and during the period of Reconstruction. In many way I received an advanced copy of this book courtesy of a Goodreads giveaway. If I could give it a 4.5, I would (only because I am very stingy with 5s). This is a well-written and impressively researched examination of the lives of the conjoined twins of Siam, Chang and Eng (Bunker). But it is about so much more than those brothers. It examines relevant ancillary issues and events in American culture and history preceding and during the Civil War and during the period of Reconstruction. In many ways, Huang makes it clear how the twins were made for "such a time as this," as their lives collided with the American "freak show" fascination, the rise (and fall) of P.T. Barnum, the phrenology trend in medicine, the Great Awakening, and--of course--the binary nature of class and race during the time of American slavery. Huang demonstrates through anecdote and thorough research how Chang and Eng represented the "other" in so many ways but, almost inexplicably, captured much of what constitutes the American Dream. The odd juxtaposition of the twins and the Andy Griffith Show is also described at length. Anyone who enjoys historical non-fiction written by scholars but in a narrative way would enjoy this book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    The story felt puffed up by the author's attempts to include the Siamese Twins as an integral part of the American social and cultural times in which they lived. These sidelong forays unsuccessfully detoured an interesting story, but one to which the author added few new insights, besides the fact that the twins were slaveholders.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mom2nine

    Having already read a fictionalized story about the "Siamese Twins" I was interested in this biography. Huang's research is intense and in-depth, yet the book is readable and interesting. I appreciate that he avoids assumptions or putting words or thoughts into the twins, if there is not proof. The book is incredibly detailed with notes and ledgers, all with valid sources. This is more than just a biography, though, with historical details giving an understanding of the time period and contempor Having already read a fictionalized story about the "Siamese Twins" I was interested in this biography. Huang's research is intense and in-depth, yet the book is readable and interesting. I appreciate that he avoids assumptions or putting words or thoughts into the twins, if there is not proof. The book is incredibly detailed with notes and ledgers, all with valid sources. This is more than just a biography, though, with historical details giving an understanding of the time period and contemporaries. book received in goodreads contest.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    I mostly really enjoyed this book. However the sections where Huang quotes sections of fiction by authors such as Mark Twain and Herman Melville linking them to the twins seemed like a stretch. I had hoped to learn more of how Eng and Chang viewed the world but I suspect that information is not out there for historians to discover. Still, their lives are fascinating enough that even a limited account is interesting.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joy Adams

    I really enjoyed this book .non fiction is my favorite genre of books .Many years ago I remember reading a book on these twins . I read this while in the hospital with a broken leg .It helped to take my mind off the pain.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    This is the compelling story of conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker, an amazing pair. The book is also a cultural study of America's fascination with and treatment of the other.

  12. 4 out of 5

    David Corleto-Bales

    Interesting but sometimes meandering history of Chang and Eng [Bunker], the famous "Siamese Twins" who were "discovered" by an English sea captain in Thailand in 1824 and later were "purchased" by a promoter and went on an extended tour of Britain and the United States, (and later, continental Europe). The life of the twins apparently did not produce enough primary material for an extensive biography because the author frequently meanders away into contemporary topics that sometimes have as much Interesting but sometimes meandering history of Chang and Eng [Bunker], the famous "Siamese Twins" who were "discovered" by an English sea captain in Thailand in 1824 and later were "purchased" by a promoter and went on an extended tour of Britain and the United States, (and later, continental Europe). The life of the twins apparently did not produce enough primary material for an extensive biography because the author frequently meanders away into contemporary topics that sometimes have as much tenuous connection to the subject as the fibrous piece of flesh that connected the brothers together. The brothers later retired to rural western North Carolina where they became farmers and with no apparent sense of irony, slaveholders, who ended up losing it all in the Civil War, forcing them back into the life as a carnival sideshow. Interesting reflections on antebellum America's fascination with curiosities and the amazing ability of people to thrive despite the odds being against them. The brothers married two local sisters in North Carolina and sired 21 children between them. Their descendants now number in the thousands.

  13. 5 out of 5

    J.L. Slipak

    Nearly a decade after his triumphant Charlie Chan biography, Yunte Huang returns with this long-awaited portrait of Chang and Eng Bunker (1811–1874), twins conjoined at the sternum by a band of cartilage and a fused liver, who were “discovered” in Siam by a British merchant in 1824. Bringing an Asian American perspective to this almost implausible story, Huang depicts the twins, arriving in Boston in 1829, first as museum exhibits but later as financially savvy showmen who gained their freedom a Nearly a decade after his triumphant Charlie Chan biography, Yunte Huang returns with this long-awaited portrait of Chang and Eng Bunker (1811–1874), twins conjoined at the sternum by a band of cartilage and a fused liver, who were “discovered” in Siam by a British merchant in 1824. Bringing an Asian American perspective to this almost implausible story, Huang depicts the twins, arriving in Boston in 1829, first as museum exhibits but later as financially savvy showmen who gained their freedom and traveled the backroads of rural America to bring “entertainment” to the Jacksonian mobs. Their rise from subhuman, freak-show celebrities to rich southern gentry; their marriage to two white sisters, resulting in-one children; and their owning of slaves, is here not just another sensational biography but a Hawthorne-like excavation of America’s historical penchant for finding feast in the abnormal, for tyrannizing the “other”—a tradition that, as Huang reveals, becomes inseparable from American history itself. Out April 3, 2018 MY THOUGHTS: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. Reading about the extraordinary has always been something I’ve enjoyed, the brothers in this book are amazing. Learning about their lives as conjoined twins is both humbling and sad, mainly because of their strength of character displayed in these pages. The author obviously researched his subjects extensively and told their story without assumptions and fillers. He kept to the facts and avoided assuming how the twins felt or spoke about certain aspects of their lives. Everything was documented and supported. I found the story of Chang and Eng riveting and inspiring. To learn that they lived in Siam during the time period the movie “The King And I” is depicted in was surprising, as was the fact that they lived out their lives in Mayberry, where “The Andy Griffith Show” was set in. Learning about society during their lifetime and how their presence amongst them was felt, was frustrating and shameful. There were many ironic aspects to the Bunkers’ way of life too, of which I won’t say so as not to spoil the story for you. With support from their family and the twins desire to lead a “normal” life, the Bunker twins were truly heroic and had the courage of an army during a time of turmoil and prejudice. The end of the book that dealt with the twins death was the most disturbing for me and left me feeling sad and overwhelmed at just how horrible human nature can be. To be born in an unforgiving era… This book is a well-written and impressively researched but is more than a laid out set of facts. The author reflects on culture and historical issues relevant to the twins’ lives. The thought of ‘freak shows’ and how this is where the brothers “fit in” better was hard to read. They were born during a time of exploitation and phrenology trend in medicine was at its highest, and slavery in the United States was a way of life. I can’t even begin to imagine what they went through. I appreciated the author’s tone of voice and writing style. He executed the written language professionally and astutely.

  14. 5 out of 5

    DJ Cheek

    A lot of the story of Chang and Eng Bunker is absolutely fascinating. Their story is horrifying, improbable, deeply flawed, and yet often times reflects a lot of deeper truths about our society. However Mr. Huang frequently dwells too much on inconsequent details. Page after page is devoted to recounting various purchases made by the twins while they were on tour. Much of this is filler and conjecture. The 20 page epilogue is uninteresting and irrelevant.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lynn Domina

    This book is amazing as much for all it reveals about 19th century American culture as about Chang and Eng themselves.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Zulfiya

    I quite enjoyed this thoroughly researched book about the iconic Siamese twins, and I enjoyed it even more for not just being the biography of those twins, even though it would have been interested on its own, but for the book being much more than just the biography. It is the panoramic descriptions of the events all around the globe that affected and shaped the lives of the twins that made this book so meaningful and so much more compelling for me. The language is very engaging and not dry as I quite enjoyed this thoroughly researched book about the iconic Siamese twins, and I enjoyed it even more for not just being the biography of those twins, even though it would have been interested on its own, but for the book being much more than just the biography. It is the panoramic descriptions of the events all around the globe that affected and shaped the lives of the twins that made this book so meaningful and so much more compelling for me. The language is very engaging and not dry as it might often happen with non-fiction books, but at the same time, one can feel a certain level of restraint that characterizes a well-researched non-fiction book. The book does not go into the medical part of the problem as it is not its goal.Even though I would like to know more about the biology of conjoint twins, this book mostly avoids its topic with the only small exception in its final chapters, and I think this made this book more readable as the author focuses more on the cultural aspects of acceptance of " other" or a " different human being" and how we have evolved so far or how pathetically small our steps we have taken in this direction. The fun fact that surprised me that the twins were taking sides during the Civil War, and they were the slave owners fighting for the state rights to own slaves. Oh, well ... One can only speculate why they sided with the slave owners and became ones after the long period of emotional abuse, but this is the life style they enjoyed after their initial struggles and were able to live comfortably, so I can see how they were partial to the rights of the Southern states without condoning them. To sum it up, it was quite a pleasurable and engaging read.

  17. 5 out of 5

    William Koon

    I once had a colleague who spoke in allusions and footnotes. Huang’s Inseparable suffers from the same disease. He pontificates on the following while following the relatively simple story of Chang and Eng: Alexis de Tocqueville, Dickens, Nat Turner, Drunken Indians, the great awakening, Amerind diaspora, yankee peddlers, Charles Willson Peale, Black Hawk, the history of phrenology, Twain, Walker Evans, Poe, Melville, Whitman, Jane Austen, Victor Hugo, John Harvey Kellogg. Then as Ron Popeil wou I once had a colleague who spoke in allusions and footnotes. Huang’s Inseparable suffers from the same disease. He pontificates on the following while following the relatively simple story of Chang and Eng: Alexis de Tocqueville, Dickens, Nat Turner, Drunken Indians, the great awakening, Amerind diaspora, yankee peddlers, Charles Willson Peale, Black Hawk, the history of phrenology, Twain, Walker Evans, Poe, Melville, Whitman, Jane Austen, Victor Hugo, John Harvey Kellogg. Then as Ron Popeil would say, “There’s more! the Oneida Community, Northern abolitionist newspapers, Violet and Daisy Hilton, Sally Heming, Twain again , Barnum, Ambrose Bierce –oh and so many more in this repetitious poorly written work. His writing makes one cringe with “So unique” and “not inconceivable.” Plus his use of idioms reads like a text book written for non-speakers. I have always been interested in Chang and Eng’s stories since I grew up as their neighbors, separated by about 100 years. Basically, they were exploited, settled down, exploited themselves, lived fairly normal lives, and died. But Huang tries to display all of the nineteenth century and its various philosophical bases and biases. He looks upon himself as a modern de Tocqueville. But unlike that wise Frenchman who observed, Huang needs to explain America by what he has learned in books. And he won’t even let poor Andy Griffith alone. (Too much of the book is concerned with the author and Mt. Airy and the fictional town of Mayberry.) Remember that clarinet song “Stranger on the Shore” by Aker Bilt? Huang is that same stranger on the shore trying to tell it all to us. And failing.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    The lives of Chang and Eng "Bunker" certainly made for fascinating, eye-opening reading on many levels: immigration and citizenship controversies; human trafficking/slavery travesties in ways I would have never considered; ethical considerations in terminologies such as freaks and menageries, conjoined living challenges, and so much more. In some ways it seems like we've come a long, long way from the "FREAK" obsessive, prejudicially morose, crazily curious society of the early twentieth century The lives of Chang and Eng "Bunker" certainly made for fascinating, eye-opening reading on many levels: immigration and citizenship controversies; human trafficking/slavery travesties in ways I would have never considered; ethical considerations in terminologies such as freaks and menageries, conjoined living challenges, and so much more. In some ways it seems like we've come a long, long way from the "FREAK" obsessive, prejudicially morose, crazily curious society of the early twentieth century. Then again, perhaps not. We still, as humans, are mesmerized by the wildly unusual, the greatly fantastical, the mind boggling improbably, the weirdly abnormal . . . satisfying our curiosities by rubbernecking past wrecks, scrolling through Facebook, watching deranged movies, and yes - reading books such as this. Expansively researched, pleasantly readable and well written, Yunte Huang is quite the gifted nonfiction writer. He made Chang and Eng's life-story come alive by including enriching details surrounding events of the times and others involved (directly and indirectly) in their lives. However, he was considerably zealous with added details, leading readers down rabbit trails of very limited relevance. That is primarily what impedes me from rating this book higher. FOUR **** Fascinating Biography Enriched with History, Featuring the Wildly Fantastical (and controversial) Chang and Eng **** STARS (Because Three is way too few and Five would be excessively too generous)

  19. 5 out of 5

    Christie

    Chang and Eng Bunker are known as the "original" Siamese Twins. "Discovered" in Siam as teenagers by a British merchant, the conjoined twins were used by a few unscrupulous businessmen as side-show entertainment. Eventually claiming their independence, the twins settled in rural North Carolina, married a pair of sisters, had 21 children between them, and owned slaves and supported the Confederacy in the Civil War. In this biography and look at history in the early to mid-1800s, Huang tells the s Chang and Eng Bunker are known as the "original" Siamese Twins. "Discovered" in Siam as teenagers by a British merchant, the conjoined twins were used by a few unscrupulous businessmen as side-show entertainment. Eventually claiming their independence, the twins settled in rural North Carolina, married a pair of sisters, had 21 children between them, and owned slaves and supported the Confederacy in the Civil War. In this biography and look at history in the early to mid-1800s, Huang tells the story of the lives and times of Chang and Eng, and explores how their story relates to our concept of race and "otherness." I picked this book up because having lived in North Carolina my whole life I was aware of my state's claim to fame as being the residence of the most famous conjoined twins of the 19th century. I was very excited to have the opportunity last year to visit the Mutter Museum to see the exhibit on them there. I had never read a full book about Chang and Eng, so I was quite interested in giving this book a read. I learned a lot more about the twins' story than I had known before, and especially appreciated the author's use of their story to explore race relations not only in the 1800s, but today. I also liked the epilogue that contrasted the twins' story with that of another famous Mt. Airy resident, Andy Griffith, and the author's story of his journey to Mt. Airy. My only issue with the book is that the first part dragged quite a bit and included a lot of extraneous details that I feel like distracted from the main theme of the book. The author focuses a lot on the writers of the day, and speculates how Chang and Eng might have influenced their work. Some of these are backed up by historical and literary record (Mark Twain), but others seem like quite a reach (Poe, Melville, etc.). The author utilizes long quotes from these authors' works to back up his thesis, and all of this together made for a very long rabbit trail away from Chang and Eng. I feel like the later part of the book was much better and got the book back on track. I do recommend the book if you are interested in learning more about Chang and Eng's lives. However, if you do read it, expect the first bit to be a bit of slog.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Gayla Bassham

    Excellent book. It turns out there is much to mine in the life of Chang and Eng Bunker -- the author adeptly unpacks issues of race and gender as well as the "freak" culture of the 19th century. Highly recommended, especially if you're interested in the intersection of race and celebrity (of a sort) in the antebellum South.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lynn Nysse

    Incredible read. Full of American background history of the time before during and after the twins existed. A book describing the twins and the life that they had - good and bad. Not a book to read through in several sittings.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Joanne Clarke Gunter

    A very well-written, well-researched, and interesting book. I enjoyed it as much for the history of the times (1811-1874) as for the life story of Chang and Eng Bunker, the conjoined twins from Siam.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Fascinating read, covering biography, US and Asian history (esp. pre-Civil War era), a thoughtful analysis of the influence of race and immigration, PT Barnum, and even a connection to the Andy Griffith show. Highly recommend; I would like to read more by this author (esp. his award-winning book "Charlie Chan")

  24. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    This was a fascinating true story with a sweeping background of American history—both important and trivial. Chang and Eng Bunker were born in Siam in 1811 as conjoined twins, held together by a ligamentous band in their lower mid-section. Discovered by a British merchant in 1824, they and their parents were talked into letting him take them to England, where they became a wildly popular freak show and traveled widely, ultimately to America. Clever, likable, and very bright, the twins eventually This was a fascinating true story with a sweeping background of American history—both important and trivial. Chang and Eng Bunker were born in Siam in 1811 as conjoined twins, held together by a ligamentous band in their lower mid-section. Discovered by a British merchant in 1824, they and their parents were talked into letting him take them to England, where they became a wildly popular freak show and traveled widely, ultimately to America. Clever, likable, and very bright, the twins eventually took control of their own destiny and became wealthy, settling in North Carolina and marrying sisters shortly before the Civil War. Their story is intricately told and morbidly fascinating. My only complaint is that the author seemed determined to use every shred of research about every stop in the twins' journey, and while the reader learns a great deal of American history, I was distracted by what felt like repeated detours in the story. Still, the author's research was impressive, and he left little to the imagination in the lives of the twins.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Also

    Really fascinating.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Newt Taylor

    My first(and possibly last) Yunte Huang book. As one reviewer stated about another of Huang’s books, “...if one of his students had put this much padding into a term paper, he’d fail them”. And if the superfluous material isn’t enough, Huang’s guilty of ingemination, as well(with all that padding, it’s understandable why Bob, Huang’s editor, would have dozed off at his desk). The extraordinary lives(life?) of Chang and Eng could have been an extraordinary book, also. Not his time.

  27. 5 out of 5

    William Matthies

    The title made me buy this book and I'd like you to believe I did so because I wanted to learn what effect Chang and Eng, "The Original Siamese Twins", had on "American history". I'd like you to but that's not the reason. The truth is I wanted to learn how Chang and Eng lived their lives joined as they were from birth to death. How did they "function" (aka, go to the bathroom)? Did they have intimate relationships with women and if so, how? What happened if one got sick or mad at the other? And The title made me buy this book and I'd like you to believe I did so because I wanted to learn what effect Chang and Eng, "The Original Siamese Twins", had on "American history". I'd like you to but that's not the reason. The truth is I wanted to learn how Chang and Eng lived their lives joined as they were from birth to death. How did they "function" (aka, go to the bathroom)? Did they have intimate relationships with women and if so, how? What happened if one got sick or mad at the other? And many other challenges conjoined twins face throughout their lives, things I hadn't thought about prior to reading this book. Chang and Eng were born at the beginning of the 19th century in what was then Siam. They were brought to the US to be exhibited. They traveled extensively throughout the US and much of Europe prior to retirement in Traphill, a rural part of North Carolina where Chang and Eng share fame today with Andy Griffith's birthplace and fictitious Mayberry. I don't want to spoil what you'll learn should you read this account of their lives but I will tell you this much. They did marry two sisters and between them had 21 or 22 children (there is disagreement as to exactly how many.) The devil is in the details and the book provides that detail. As to the book itself. Author Yunte Huang answered all my questions although at times I felt he might be providing a little too much filler not directly related to the twins. Always at least indirectly related but occasionally a little off the main topic for my taste. But take that as nothing more than weak justification for deducting one star. The book is well written and if the topic interests you the cost and time to read it will be worth it.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Betty

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. excellent - very interesting, especially with the background added.

  29. 4 out of 5

    JQAdams

    Hoo boy, did I not like this book. My dislike was intense enough that I was just going to give it away unfinished about 100 pages in, but then it was nominated for yet another prize (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and I determined to try again, assuming it must improve later on. It did not, alas. To be fair, some of what I disliked about the book is presumably what book-critic types liked. Or at least it's what every stereotype of English majors (and hence book-reviewer t Hoo boy, did I not like this book. My dislike was intense enough that I was just going to give it away unfinished about 100 pages in, but then it was nominated for yet another prize (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and I determined to try again, assuming it must improve later on. It did not, alas. To be fair, some of what I disliked about the book is presumably what book-critic types liked. Or at least it's what every stereotype of English majors (and hence book-reviewer types) want from history. You want symbolism at the bluntless of a children's television show? You want extremely tenuous connections to authors whose work you were assigned to read in high school? (After "there's no evidence that Herman Melville ever saw the twins, but they were in the same city at the same time once, so [pages of speculation about how his work reflects their influence]" and "there's no evidence that Edgar Allan Poe ever saw the twins, but they, too, were in the same city at the same time once, [pages of speculation about how his work reflects their influence]" and "Mark Twain wrote a book half about conjoined twins once, so even though he clearly didn't interact with them, [pages of speculation about how his work reflects their influence]," I was begging for mercy.) You want whole chapters dedicated to other authors that you were not assigned in high school but might have heard of? (Bulwer-Lytton, represent.) It's all here. When Huang can't come up with something English-professory to bang on about and, horrors, must resort to actual history or biography, he makes the best of it by just making things up. There's lots of "here's how the twins felt" or "here's picturesque detail about the setting" that doesn't seem to reflect any source, certainly not anything revealed in the endnotes. Or all the times he pads things out with facts that managed to be boring yet bewildering in their randomness (oh, goody, here's the tonnage of a steamship the twins are traveling on!), which I would normally characterize as "Wikipedia-quality prose," except Wikipedia has a better track record of accuracy. Huang, on the other hand, is the sort of author who will gratuitously include incorrect "facts." E.g., "While the nine Supreme Court justices were still deliberating the fate of millions of Native Americans after William Wirt's passionate plea on the previous day in the case of Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, the twins were put on display again in New York City." is a baffling and awkward way to contextualize the date something happened. But if an author insists on going down that road, he should probably know that the Supreme Court didn't have nine justices yet at that point. Not that Huang's going to go anywhere interesting when he does resort to using sources. The page after page lovingly recounting spending entries from the ledger the twins kept while on tour ensures the reader will get practically real-time coverage of their young adulthood. But then later decades are almost wholly omitted, lest they get in the way of irrelevant, ideally literature-adjacent, ruminations. Seriously. I like discursive. I like books that take tangents. I like lots of things that might have been here. I'm intrigued by the story of how lifelong victims of racial discrimination reconciled themselves to becoming slaveowners, as the twins did. But ugh, this was a total misfire.

  30. 4 out of 5

    David

    This was a Great book to read. I have always been fascinated with the Siamese twins since I was a little boy. I did not know that they lived in the North Carolina by Mayberry where the Andy Griffith show took place.this is a 5 star book.

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