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The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini Paperback – October 21, 2003


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers 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.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From 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
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (October 21, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081297042X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812970425
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,085,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By John Cox on March 25, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've read every biography on Harry Houdini and this one is good...but it isn't the best. (The best is Ken Silverman's Houdini! The Career of Ehrich Weiss.) Here Ruth Brandon has mined information from older Houdini bios and created a skillful patchwork. Even her much publicized (and much maligned) "psycho-babble" comes right out of Bernard C. Meyer's Houdini A Mind in Chains (1976). Indeed, this excellent long out-of-print book seems to be Ms. Brandon's Deep Throat. Her chapter relating the events leading up to Houdini's death is taken almost paragraph for paragraph from the Meyer book. And do we really need to hear about the author's own childhood experiences with magic? Still, it's a good read, but for a serious and truly revealing Houdini bio, go with the Silverman book.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Andrew B. Mcmahon on June 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
If you're planning on buying just one Houdini book, go with Kenneth Silverman. Although there are parts of Brandon's book which are excellent, I grew tired of her opinions and psycho-babble. Ultimately, I got the feeling that the author simply didn't like Houdini. Perhaps I should have been warned when reading Brandon's bio: "She likes to think of biography as a framework within which to look at cultural history." Houdini was a complex person, to say the least. Personally, I'd rather be presented with the facts so I could form my own opinion.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Coach K on January 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
Overall, an enjoyable read, but I agree with prior reviewers -- too much Freudian analysis for my taste, and I don't care to hear the author's personal experiences.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Pluck on November 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
As a previous reviewer stated, there are plenty of other good bios of Houdini. This one is full of psychobabble and reads like character assassination. All heroes have feet of clay, but her analysis is repetitive and makes the second half of the book deathly boring.
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