The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini

The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini

by Joe Posnanski
The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini

The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini

by Joe Posnanski


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Joe Posnanski enters the colorful world of Harry Houdini and his legions of devoted fans to explore the illusionist’s impact on global culture—and why his legacy endures to this day.

Nearly a century after Harry Houdini died on Halloween in 1926, he feels as modern and alive as ever. The name Houdini still leaps to mind whenever we witness a daring escape. The baby who frees herself from her crib? Houdini. The dog who vanishes and reappears in the neighbor’s garden? Houdini. Every generation produces new disciples of the magician, from household names in magic like David Copperfield and David Blaine to countless other followers whose lives have been transformed by the power of Houdini.

In rural Pennsylvania, a thirteen-year-old girl finds the courage to leave a violent home after learning that Houdini ran away to join the circus; she eventually becomes the first female magician to saw a man in half on television. In Australia, an eight-year-old boy with a learning impediment feels worthless until he sees an old poster of Houdini advertising “Nothing on earth can hold Houdini prisoner,” and begins his path to becoming that nation’s most popular magician. In California, an actor and Vietnam War veteran finds purpose in his life by uncovering the secrets of his hero.

But the unique phenomenon of Houdini was always more than his death-defying stunts or his ability to escape handcuffs and straitjackets. It is also about the power of imagination and self-invention. His incredible transformation from Ehrich Weiss, humble Hungarian immigrant and rabbi’s son, into the self-named Harry Houdini has won him a slice of immortality. No one has withstood the test of time quite like Houdini. Fueled by Posnanski’s personal obsession with the magician—and magic itself—The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini is a poignant odyssey of discovery, blending biography, memoir, and first-person reporting to trace Houdini’s metamorphosis into an iconic figure who has inspired millions.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501137242
Publisher: Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 10/13/2020
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 138,635
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Joe Posnanski is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of six books, including Paterno and The Secret of Golf. He has written for The Athletic, Sports Illustrated, NBC Sports, and The Kansas City Star and currently writes at He has been named National Sportswriter of the Year by five different organizations and is the winner of two Emmy Awards. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his family.

Table of Contents

Los Angeles, November 30, 1915 xi

The Truest Believer 1


Lies and Illusions 11

The Origin Story 15

The Silverman Boxes 19

The Runaway Child 27

Bahl Yahn, the Strong Man 37


Torrini 47

The Name 53

The Early Days 65

Acid on the Dress 73

Sideshow 77

King of Cards 85

Magic Made Easy 97


Beck 103

Naked Ambition 107

Scotland Yard 115

Not a Love Match 121

The Fight of Cologne 129


The Mirror Cuffs 137

How He Did It (Theory One) 143

How He Did It (Theory Two) 147

How He Did It (Theories Galore) 151

My Guess 157


The Needles 163

The Challenges 167

Straitjackets 173

The Bells of the Kremlin 181

Life and Death 189


Epic Rap Battle I 203

Korby's Clothing Store 205

Elephants and Statues 211

Epic Rap Battle II 225


Nothing Supernatural 229

Houdini Upside Down 231

The Empathy of Escape 237

The Secret 245

Inescapable Death

The Dutiful Son 251

Spirits of the Night 255

The Punch 263

The End 271

The Afterlife

There Is No Death 279

The Grim Game 285

The Unmasking 293

Afterword: Houdini's Ghost 299

Acknowledgments 309

A Selected Bibliography 313

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