The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini

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Overview

For many performers, stage life and real life are separate identities. For master illusionist Harry Houdini, the two were inextricably linked. In this widely acclaimed biography, Ruth Brandon shows how Houdini’s obsession with his own mortality drove him to create death-defying stunts that not only captivated the public but also subdued his own raging psychological demons.

As Brandon relates Houdini’s methods of escape, she asks: What was he trying to escape from? Her ...

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Overview

For many performers, stage life and real life are separate identities. For master illusionist Harry Houdini, the two were inextricably linked. In this widely acclaimed biography, Ruth Brandon shows how Houdini’s obsession with his own mortality drove him to create death-defying stunts that not only captivated the public but also subdued his own raging psychological demons.

As Brandon relates Houdini’s methods of escape, she asks: What was he trying to escape from? Her exploration of the psychic landscape of one of the most enduringly famous performers of the twentieth century makes for utterly fascinating reading. Brandon reveals much that is new: how Houdini invented a phantom son; why he wrote long daily letters to his wife, Bess, who lived one floor below him; his combative relations with mediums and spiritualists, including Arthur Conan Doyle; and the first full description of his fabled death. This definitive biography allows readers to peer into Houdini’s psyche and understand him more deeply than ever before.

For the most famous magician of our century, life on and off stage were inseparably linked. In this widely acclaimed biography, Brandon shows how Houdini's obsession with mortality drove him to create death-defying escapes that not only captivated the public, but also subdued his own psychic demons. 50 photos.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“What is it about this mother-fixated, death-obsessed, overly competitive insomniac...that continues to fascinate us?...What [Ruth Brandon] found was a man with a gift for self-promotion equaling that of Madonna’s.”
—USA Today

“Elegant...[Brandon reveals] the surprising charisma of the man whose name has, for more than a century, evoked wonder.”
—The Boston Globe

“Superb...Brandon is a shrewd and incisive biographer.”
—John Banville, Los Angeles Times Book Review

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Brandon, who has written on Sarah Bernhardt (Being Divine) and the Singer sewing machine family, approaches this master of illusion with skepticism and sympathy. Houdini was born sometime in 1874 (virtually nothing about him was easy for his biographer to establish). She considers what psychological needs drove a man to jump handcuffed into an icy river to prove he could free himself, or to hang upside down in a straitjacket from the top of a skyscraper for the same reason; and she portrays ``this conspicuously brave man'' as also a ``conspicuously frightened man.'' Houdini's every performance carried the threat of death and, more important, the threat of failure. The dramatic escapes of this meticulous craftsman were in essence faked but nonetheless often highly dangerous. Obsessively devoted to his mother and to his wife, Bess, Houdini numbered among his friends both Edmund Wilson and Conan Doyle. He died in 1926 at the age of 52-from appropriately mysterious causes. Brandon draws the reader inexorably into the magical, slightly crazed world of the Great Houdini, born Erich Weiss in Budapest, or was it Appleton, Wisconsin? Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.)
School Library Journal
YA-As Houdini mesmerized his audiences, Brandon skillfully unfolds the mystery and drama behind the Handcuff King's obsession with the illusions and tricks of death. Besides being very readable, this biography is accessible to students because of its numerous photographs, added notes, selected bibliography, and index.-Beth Gourley, Handley Regional Library, Winchester, VA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812970425
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/21/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 392
  • Sales rank: 778,507
  • Product dimensions: 5.24 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.85 (d)

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