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This comprehensive biography-plus-activity book on the famed magician of the late 19th and early 20th centuries illuminates nearly as much about the era as about Harry Houdini. Supplying sidebars on such topics as vaudeville, Ouija boards and the Wright Brothers, Carlson (More than Moccasins) puts Houdini's career squarely in context. Her writing is detailed but conversational as she offers engrossing facts and tidbits: Houdini also worked as a spy, movie actor and stuntman, and ground-breaking aviator; his wife and performing partner once saved Buster Keaton from a fire. Readers will come away viewing Houdini as much a product of his time as of his own wits and making. The narrative seems dauntingly long, but is interspersed with explanations and diagrams of magic tricks, b&w photos and ephemera, and imaginatively chosen, decorative line art. The magic tricks are clearly explained and easy to do: make a Magic Box (it has a trick bottom) out of milk cartons, secretly pass messages to a partner, etc.; some activities reinforce the science behind many of Houdini's tricks. Ages 9-up. (Feb.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.