Houdini: Master of Illusion

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9780590949606: Houdini: Master of Illusion

Houdini was an illusionist and escape artist who drew colossal crowds and awed them. His incredible feats seemed impossible, yet no one was ever able to debunk him. How did he escape from locked jail cells? How did he emerge after diving into stormy rivers with chains locked around his body? Although Clinton Cox exposes the secrets behind many of Houdini's tricks, readers will learn it was Houdini's brilliancy, his physical dexterity, and his wild imagination that made him a true master of illusion.

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From Publishers Weekly:

Cox (Come All You Brave Soldiers: Blacks in the Revolutionary War) offers a forthright, anecdotal account of the life of this complex and controversial individual, born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest in 1874. Frequently drawing from Houdini's diary and correspondence, as well as period newspapers and reviews of this quintessential illusionist's performances, the author illuminates both the personal and professional sides of Houdini. After describing his subject's early years in Wisconsin, Cox discusses the genesis of Houdini's career and then tracks his peripatetic life performing legerdemain and escape feats in many countries. This chronicle strikes a welcome balance between portraying Houdini as a brazen, masterful showman and as a deep-feeling, sometimes insecure family man. Like Tom Lalicki's recent Spellbinder, Cox emphasizes Houdini's devotion to his mother (he never recovered from the shock of her death) and to Bess, his wife of 32 years and sidekick on stage (though he allegedly had an affair with Jack London's widow). Cox also discloses lesser-known aspects of the eccentric Houdini's personality (e.g., his passion for making movies and his zealous campaign to expose fraudulent spiritualists). Two photo inserts offer a peek at the magician's posters and promo shots, as well as his family. What young readers will likely find most gripping are the particulars of Houdini's spectacular stunts, including fascinating backstage revelations of how he pulled some of them off. Ages 9-14.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal:

Gr 5-9-A concise and highly readable biography. The chronological narrative progresses from 1874 to 1926 in a well-organized and easy-to-follow manner. Descriptions of events and personalities provide an excellent backdrop as well as a historical context. Initially known as a masterful magician, Houdini's career really took off when he began his famous acts as an escape artist. As his fame grew, so did the seemingly impossible challenges he imposed upon himself. Diving underwater in shackles, being buried alive, the Chinese Water Torture Cell, walking through brick walls, and making an elephant disappear are just a few of the stunts that he presented to the world. The pace of the book moves along at an exciting clip, while each chapter unveils a new and unthinkable episode in the showman's life. Two eight-page inserts of photographs and reproductions help to bring the figures to life. Although there is a bibliography, Cox does not use footnotes to substantiate the dialogue and feelings attributed to various individuals. Nonetheless, readers will revel in Houdini's escapades and be enthralled by the mythical stature that has made his name a household word.

Elizabeth Fernandez, Brunswick Middle School, Greenwich, CT

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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