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On Deception (On Series) Paperback – December 1, 2009
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There is some good content, though, but not enough. I have no idea if Houdini's writings are all so anecdotal and terse, but the selections here certainly are. There are some interesting tricks exposed but in such short order that one feels after reading that one has merely read very short summaries of a few topics.
There is a passable introduction by Derren Brown (author of the stunningly excellent Tricks Of The Mind, a short introduction by Houdini himself (presumably from one of his books, The Right Way To Do Wrong: An Expose Of Successful Criminals (1906).
Then follows a short section (possibly the most entertaining and substantial, though) titled Thieves And Their Tricks. It is only ten pages long and details some of the more ingenious thieves and scams that Houdini had heard of. Presumably this is a small excerpt from his larger book on this topic.
The next section, titled Light On The Subject Of Jailbreaking, weighs in at around 24 full pages. It is mainly an account of various jail breaking, lock picking, straight-jacket defeating experiences of Houdini, in which he reveals some of his methods or approaches. It is also a long harangue by the master magician against other pretenders to the throne who, Houdini explains, are all inferior fakes, charlatans, and copy-cats of himself, the greatest and only genuine escape artist.
The third and last section is titled, Miracle Mongers And Their Methods, and skimpily details some anecdotes on the methods of fire-eaters, sword-swallowers, snake-bite defiers, and eaters of live coals and molten lead. This section is a whopping 26 or so full pages.
There were also about two places where sentences ended abruptly, as if whole sections of text were indiscriminately chopped out, resulting in a couple of truncated explanations and nonsense sentences.
Unless you want only the flimsiest of introductions to Houdini's writing, I suggest you look rather to purchasing one of his actual books, Houdini: A Magician Among the Spirits (this one devotes an entire chapter to the extremely irrational and gullible Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), The Miracle Mongers, an Exposé, or Houdini on Magic (something of an instruction manual, beautifully illustrated, of techniques but also with many exposés of spiritualists and other charlatans).
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 reveals some of his own deceptions in this 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.
I seems petty today because we all know who Harry Houdini is and have no clue who some of these guys are. I guess that's just part of the job. Read it as a historical work rather than an expose.