On Deception

On Deception




Throughout his life, the world’s most famous escapologist strove to expose the methods and tricks of illusionists and sham spiritualists. Studying entertainers and criminals alike, Houdini investigates the tricks of the mind and sleights of hand that have deceived people throughout history. The magician’s writings caused a public sensation; legend has it that his book The Right Way to Do Wrong was bought in bulk by burglars in an attempt to guard the tricks of their trade. This collection also includes Houdini’s revelations about the methods behind some of his own most famous tricks, and articles he wrote to expose his imitators.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781843916130
Publisher: Hesperus Press
Publication date: 02/14/2010
Series: On Series
Pages: 76
Product dimensions: 4.80(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Harry Houdini (1874–1926) was a magician, escapologist, and stunt performer, as well as a skeptic and investigator of spiritualists. He was also a film producer, actor, and author. Derren Brown is a magician whose TV shows include Mind Control with Derren Brown, which aired on Sci-Fi Channel.

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On Deception 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
xavierp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Firstly, many thanks to Hesperus Books for sending this copy through so promptly. My copy is the 2009 (2010 reprint) copy and has a foreword by Derren Brown. It is part of the "On" collection."On Deception" is Houdini's thoughts and findings on lock picking, escapology, magic and various methods of producing spirits and mediumistic apparitions. It is very short, some 74 pages, and is written in an extremely conversational format. Houdini jumps around from subject to subject and, as was fitting for his personality, he is not above pointing out his rivals' shortcomings. The book is supposed to give us an insight into how burglars and mediums do their thing - and it does, to an extent - but it is too short. Any one of the subjects could have filled a thick book by itself.I had heard much about this book and other books by Houdini. A magician, an escapologist, a self-promoter, a skeptic. Houdini was many things. Unfortunately, he was not much of an author. I suspect that he found it difficult to sit down and write owing to his many theatre commitments and this comes across in the book itself. It is useful to fill your collection. It is useful to see how thinks were done at the turn of the 20th Century. However, as anything other than this, it falls short - everything in the book has been covered since then many times and in much more detail.An interesting read, but the re-read value is low.
MrJack on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This review is based on a Library Thing Early Reviewers' copy from Hesperus Press of On Deception (2009) by Harry Houdini.This is not a book on how to perform escapes or how to do magic tricks. It is an exposé of fakery with a good bit of autobiographical information thrown in for good measure. The book was first published in 1906 by a self-aggrandizing, 33-year-old Houdini, "Handcuff King" and "Prison Breaker." Humble he was not, as this book will clearly reveal.The unmaskings begin with exposés of the methods of thieves -- overcoat thieves, Venetian blind thieves, church thieves, wedding thieves, van thieves, satchel thieves, and diamond thieves -- tricksters of the worst sort. The book concludes with exposés of the methods of circus entertainers whose sensational performances endanger life and limb -- fire-eaters, sword-swallowers, and snake-handlers -- people to whom Houdini ascribes the less than flattering title of "Miracle-Mongers."In between his exposés of the worst and best deceivers among us, Houdini debunks the work of frauds of all sorts: divine healers, counterfeit doctors, spirit mediums, clairvoyants, astrologers, confidence men, fortune tellers, East Indian fakirs, magnetic healers, and Voodoo doctors.Occupying the space normally given to a book's preface is a short chapter entitled "Houdini on Houdini." In the spirit of exposing deception, I must point out that Houdini's statements about his birth date and birthplace are illusory. He wrote, "I am an American by birth, born in Appleton, Wisconsin, U.S.A., on 6th April 1873." Au contraire. In a biographical note appended to the last chapter of the book, we learn that "Harry Houdini was born Erik Weisz in Budapest, Hungary in 1874." That would make him 32 years old when he wrote this book, not 33, and an immigrant, not a natural-born citizen of the U.S.A.Despite the fact that Houdini did not write this book to tell his readers how to become escapologists, he nevertheless includes some of his own methods in his exposé. For instance, his secret to prison breaking and handcuff escaping calls for the concealment of master keys, skeleton keys, and lock picking implements. It's as simple as that. Escaping from straitjackets is another story. Physical strength, dexterity, and persistence are the requirements. No deception is needed.If you want to know what Houdini was about, this book will clue you in. He began his career in show business as a circus performer and ended his career as a debunker of spiritualist frauds. Along the way, he became the highest paid and most legendary Vaudeville performer in history.
clfisha on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A beautiful Hesperus edition containing a a tiny sliver (75pg) of thoughts from the master of escapism Houdini himself. It has a wonderful introduction by the unsettling Mentalist Derren Brown however the rest is a bit of a let down. Houdini's style is rather conversational yet does not flow very well at all He starts off in short, choppy bursts to uncovering some rather mundane scams and then explains some tricks of his trade unfortunately his descriptions can be somewhat confusing. It maybe down my poor visualising skills but I still have no idea how to get out of a straightjacket, lets hope I never need that particular skill eh? In fact it isn't until the latter half that this book starts to shine. The combination of Houdini's anecdotes and a fascinating brief history of acts such as fire eaters or snake defiers is a wonderful combination, allowing his huge personality to shine through. So although I will be on the look out for the other books in the "On" series, it is probably only of interest to die hard fans.
RobertPettifer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I received this Hesperus Press copy of the book through the Early Reviewers scheme at LibraryThing.It's a very short work with an interesting introduction by Derren Brown. There are chapters on "Thieves and their tricks," "Light on the subject of jailbreaking," and "Miracle mongers and their methods" None of these are particularly relevant in 2010 only proving that there have always been charlatans, and always people silly enough to fall for their tricks.The remainder of the book describes such skills as fire-eating, sword-swallowing and becoming resistant to snake-bites.It's probably slightly interesting in a historical contect but the discussion of handcuffs, ways to fireproof your body and how poisons work are all so out of date and/or misguided as to be of very little interest. I certainly would not pay £7.99 for this book. Houdini's self-promotion and bragging also get slightly wearing after a while.
saroz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is one in a series of "On" collections from Hesperus Press, which - in concept and design - are a really nice idea. Each little book includes a selection of essays or writings from famous writers "on a specific" topic, packaged in slick little deluxe paperbacks with glossy covers and fold-in tabs. They look great, they feel great to hold, and they're not in any way intimidating.This particular example, however, doesn't exactly work - and not much of that is actually Hesperus' fault. Based on the writings here, you would be forgiven for thinking the great escape artist Harry Houdini wasn't much of a writer. That's closer to the literal truth than you might assume. Most if not all of Houdini's books were ghost-written, many of them by William Brown Gibson, who created "The Shadow." They tend to be fairly thin in personality, devoted mostly to amping up Houdini's reputation and casting disregard on his competitors. Taking "Houdini's" writing out of context only makes its limitations all the more apparent.The particular contents of this volume - boasting only 75 pages, with the introduction - really fall into three categories. First, there's Derren Brown's introduction, which is reasonable but fairly uninteresting; I was dismayed to see him credit Houdini's giant ego but not, it seems, his capacity to hire ghost-writers. The first half of "Houdini's" own writing is largely given over to puffing up his own legend and looking down on other illusionists, and it gets a little tiring. The second half is by far the best, as "Houdini" reveals the secrets of sword-swallowers, fire eaters, and other miracle-workers.Overall, "On Deception" is a good little primer for the (supposed) writings of Harry Houdini, but it's a bit deceptive itself in not including any reference to the true nature of those writings. I enjoyed the book, but I would have reservations recommending it to others. I might, however, recommend others in the well-designed "On" series.
bertilak on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This small book includes what appear to be articles written by Harry Houdini. Since Houdini had fiction written in his name by H. P. Lovecraft, these articles might also have been ghost-written. Unfortunately the editor does not provide information about when and where they were first published.The main subject of these articles is debunking psychics, mediums, and stage magicians who make false claims regarding their 'powers'. Of course, stage magic is deceptive, but claiming supernatural ability was going too far for Houdini.After a brief discussion of how he does his escapes, the author discusses tricks used by thieves, swindlers, and impostors. Then he circles back again to magic.His discussion of fire-eaters reveals some of their techniques for avoiding injury: this is not exactly deception, other than making their act seem more dangerous than it is. The discussion of sword swallowing does not fit the formula of the rest of these articles because their is no deception: the performers actually 'swallow' the swords. Houdini seems to admire these performers particularly because they are like him: their act is based on will and skill, not trickery.The payoff of the book for me (you might call it 'the prestige') is the biographical note at the end. The writer of the Foreword to this book does not note the discrepancy between the facts and Houdini's public autobiography except to mention that Houdini was born Erik Weisz. Let me pull aside the curtain and show the deception. In the autobiographical paragraphs of the article "Houdini on Houdini", Mr. H. says he was born in Wisconsin in 1873. The note at the end says correctly that he was born 'the son of a rabbi' in Budapest in 1874.So we have the intriguing paradox that the great debunker and revealer was less than candid about himself. I am not calling Houdini a liar. Taking a stage name was a common practice and helped to avoid antisemitism. For a public figure to puff his autobiography was also common. Houdini was not in the category of the fake psychics he exposed because he actually performed his tricks and did not claim to have supernatural powers. Nonetheless, one wonders if Houdini was projecting his feelings about his own fakery on others.
bragan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A collection of short essays by Harry Houdini, reissued by Hesperus Press with an introduction by Darren Brown. Specifically, it contains the following: "Houdini on Houdini," a brief (and somewhat disjointed) account of Houdini's career; "Thieves and Their Tricks," a look at various forms of theft and fraud, some of which today seem rather quaint and others of which are depressingly familiar; "Light on the Subject of Jailbreaking," in which he discusses methods of picking locks and escaping from handcuffs and straitjackets while disparaging his imitators; and "Miracle-Mongers and Their Methods," which offers detailed, fascinating, and somewhat horrifying descriptions of how fire-eating, sword-swallowing and snake-handling acts are done. (I'm highly dubious about his discussion of cures for snakebites, by the way, but the rest of that article seems well-researched and believable.)The entire book, at well under 100 pages, is slight enough that it's debatable whether the contents are worth the cover price, but I certainly found it worth reading, and it might make a nice little addition to the bookshelves of anyone with an interest in magic or skepticism.
dtw42 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
At barely eighty pages (inclusive of Derren Brown¿s Introduction), this is a slight book, interesting chiefly as a historical curiosity. There are four general aspects to Houdini¿s text. First, self-promotion: as a showman (and a show-off) he recounts tales of his own performances. How much faith we can have in the veracity of these accounts is debatable, given the man and the nature of the profession itself. Second, debunking the methods of others, primarily his rivals, and especially those who traded on his name or reputation. This is essentially a restatement that his escapes were done ¿for real¿ (that is, picking the locks of cuffs and shackles, and wriggling free of restraints) while others merely pretended to do so, whilst in fact simply unlocking the devices, having obtained the original keys or combinations by subterfuges such as the not-especially-cunning ruse of having an associate ask about/borrow them from their owners in advance.Third, a description of the methods used by professional decievers such as thieves and fake mediums. This aspect shows us that there is nothing new under the sun: today¿s doorstep distraction robbers and email scammers are drawing on a long tradition.Fourth, a description of the methods of other ¿showman¿ types, such as might be associated with a travelling carnival or circus: fire-eaters, sword-swallowers, and the like. This aspect is peppered with extracts from earlier works, and this leaves another level of doubt in the reader's mind: if someone said, in some nineteenth-century work, that it was possible to make ones skin heat-resistant or ones body immune to snake poison by the use of some home-brewed chemical/herbal concoction, would YOU believe it? I'm not sure I would.Houdini goes into some detail about methods for escaping from various types of handcuff, though (a) some of these don't seem to quite make sense, and (b) one would hope that they'd be of academic interest only now anyway ¿ presumably modern cuffs are somewhat more sophisticated. Similarly his description of his method for unloosing oneself from a straitjacket doesn't quite make sense.Nevertheless, an interesting curio. Given a cover price of eight pounds, I might suggest that it¿s (to paraphrase Dr Johnson) worth reading, yes, but not worth paying to read.NOTE: those left wanting more anecdotes, by briliant men with large egos, on the subject of lockpicking, would do well to seek out the chapter `Safecracker meets safecracker¿ in Richard P. Feynman¿s Surely You¿re Joking, Mr. Feynman!
DavidLaing on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this slim volume to be a quite entertaining read. It is presented as a series of short essays written by Houdini, prefaced with a foreword from Derren Brown. Brown's section provides the reader with a little social context. This helps to put one into the viewpoint of a contemporary reader of Houdini's period. However, even without the historical context, there is still much of interest to the twenty first century reader. For example, many of the email frauds that are attempted today are descended from those that Houdini describes in one essay.This is a collection of writings, rather than a book - the writing has been assembled from a number of sources. This not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that the work doesn't have the feel of a coherent whole. Houdini's writing style is easy to read, and while there are some details that probably make more sense in their proper historical setting, each essay has a pleasing flow to it.So, an interesting book, easy to read - I don't think I'd pay the cover price because of the slimness. I would borrow it from a library, though, and recommend that the interested reader starts there.
Aitken_ka on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A short but fascinating introduction to Houdini's writings. He was clearly a man with a very high opinion of himself, and a very low opinion of many, many other people. It was interesting to hear his own explanations of how he did things along side his disparaging descriptions of how his contemporaries faked what he did for real. I was however left asking myself if perhaps has was protesting too much?Whatever the truth of matters, if you are interested in magic and escapology then I'd recommend this book.
brokenangelkisses on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a book that I received free from Hesperus Press via LibraryThing. This is part of a series of books in which Hesperus Press aim to enlighten us on a particular topic by publishing a collection of writings on that topic by a particular writer. (You can read Freud `On Cocaine¿, Hemingway `On Paris¿ or Virginia Woolf `On Not Knowing Greek¿.) It¿s an interesting idea, but (while I certainly appreciated the free book) I have to admit that I didn¿t really enjoy reading it. This is obviously a personal preference, but I didn¿t feel that the book hung together very well, which is hardly surprisingly since it is essentially a selection of writing thrown together posthumously.It is a slim volume ¿ only 76 pages, including the introduction by modern illusionist/ stuntman Derrren Brown ¿ and is intended to be a kind of introduction/ basic set of ideas to outline common methods of deception. There are six sections, each of which is longer than the preceding section. The longest is thirty pages, but this is split into sub-categories. None of the sections took much time to read, so in that sense it was an easy read, but I personally found it rather dull. It was especially slow going for me at the start of the book, which meant that each longer section produced a groan and I read most of the book in one sitting, not because I was enjoying it but because I had been putting it off for a while after reading the first few pages.My first reservation was the fact that it was introduced by Derren Brown, who I know is generally well thought of but who I think is a bit of a twit. In it he discusses the contract between the magician and the audience, including (somewhat irrelevantly to Houdini) between the audience and the psychic. This does briefly contextualise Houdini, which is useful, and also prepares us for the odd relationship between Houdini and other practitioners of the art of deception. It is short and easy to read and likely to appeal to fans of Brown.The next section, `Houdini on Houdini¿ introduces the writer talking about himself in what is initially an engaging manner due to his conversational style. He tries to have a dialogue with the reader, stating things like "I think I hear you ask". Ultimately, this section lacks focus and is perhaps a bit too short, although it certainly does give us some insight into how Houdini perceived himself, which is likely to be interesting to fans. Although if you are a fan, of course, you won¿t learn anything new from this introduction. A bigger problem for me was the lack of context. There were three notes at the end of the book contextualising various period details, but absolutely no indication of where these writings were taken from. Surely a key object of an introduction is to refer you on to sources where you can gain further illumination? And surely a text with any academic pretensions (which this beautifully presented slim volume clearly has) needs to reference its source material?In the next section Houdini looks at thieves. He briefly identifies various tricks used by fraudsters of his time, but this is very list like and even the anecdotal stories of crimes committed are very short. There is no real sense of drama to the events described or any connection between them. He gives limited advice for how to avoid some of these scams (although I couldn¿t help feeling like The Hustle does it better!) Ultimately I found this section too dry and brief, although glancing back over it I have to admit that the details catch my attention and I do find the description of the scams more interesting. Although some of the tricks are set in their era, others would be adaptable today and it did make me think that I would want to read more about the con artists of this period.Continuing in his quest to expose fakes and frauds, Houdini spends the final sections enlightening the reader about how various tricks are performed. If you¿ve ever wanted to know how to swallow fire or knives, this is the section