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Carter Beats the Devil

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  9,148 ratings  ·  795 reviews
Glen David Gold's literary debut dazzled critics and fans from coast to coast. Now Carter's center stage for a spectacular paperback . . . The response to Glen David Gold's debut novel, Carter Beats the Devil, was extraordinary. He hypnotized us with his portrait of a 1920s magic-obsessed America and of Charles Carter--a.k.a. Carter the Great--a young master performer whos ...more
Paperback, 662 pages
Published September 18th 2002 by Hachette Books (first published 2001)
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Community Reviews

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Wil Wheaton
Other reviews here go into the details of this wonderful novel, so if that's what you want, go read them. I'll just tell you what I knew before I went into it, which was pretty much nothing.

My friend Yuri gave me this book about 5 years ago. I was intimidated by its length, so I put it on the shelf and never opened it. Then, last year, my friend Ben gave it to me with a few other books for my 40th birthday, part of a collection he said were some of the best books he'd ever read.

Anne and I took a
Seizure Romero
It's so rare to have a book that I just can't wait to get back to reading. I always have a book with me (usually several in my car, as noted by certain friends of mine who can't help but comment on the apartment-like state of my vehicle), but then there's the one that leaps to the fore and all the other 'currently reading' titles are consigned, literally, to the back seat. Carter Beats the Devil is fun from the beginning. Gold has a knack for characters and for dialogue, and even the back story ...more
Bryce Wilson
A Conversation I had earlier,

Friend: "So what are you reading."

Me: "Carter Beats The Devil, it's about a master magician battling a shadowy conglomerate of the government, corporations, and secret societies to find the truth about president Harding's death with the help of his pet lion."

Friend: "... There's no part of that sentence that doesn't appeal to me."

There is a word for this book and it is awesome. A big thank you to Natalie for bringing this to my attention.
I liked the first half or so of this book quite a bit: three-going-on-four stars liked it. I liked that it was a historical novel (1890s - 1930s) in which the author didn't rub all his hard-earned research in your face. (The "I spent thirteen hours in the library researching fin de siècle wallpaper and by God I'm putting it in there" school of historical fiction.) The details were all just bruch strokes and placed just right. But the book gets sloppy by the end, going for a ridiculous climax tha ...more
Oct 05, 2014 Alex rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2014
"Basically Dan Brown with magicians" is what I wish had been written on the cover, so I would have known not to read this. Based to some degree on the real life of the magician Carter the Great, it also includes (sigh) references to the Illuminati and Skull and Bones, and some fanciful ideas about the last days of President Harding, who was apparently a real guy. It's suggested that Houdini was gay, a claim I can find zero supporting evidence for online. About the only things I trusted were the ...more
Paul Bryant
Nov 23, 2012 Paul Bryant rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who actually like magic, as opposed to me
Shelves: novels
A friend gave it to me years ago. I figured eventually I had to read it, like you do. On page 67 I threw it at the wall. It's about magic, which is not very interesting to read about. Or to see for that matter. Magic is very annoying - it's not real you know, it's just a lot of tricks. I like it when they chop a person up and have parts of them in boxes spread around the stage - head there, feet way over there - but that's about it.
Likewise with Harry Potter, every one of which I've seen on the
Carter Beats the Devil was set up superbly. I loved the way in which Glen David Gold really brought the early years of Carter alive and how these early childhood experiences influenced the magician he was to become. There was a pretty hefty amount of research undertaken in this project, and Gold really captures the atmosphere of the 1920's, with magicians vying to outdo each-other at every step.

Unfortunately, for me, what followed this impressive start, quickly descended into a confusing tangle
Dec 27, 2007 Hannah rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone!
Shelves: favorites
This is one of my favorite books of all time. I started it on a plane to D.C. and couldn't put it down- I stayed up all night when I got there until it was finished. It's historical fiction in the best sense and touches on so many things that fascinate me: the invention of television by Phil T. Farnsworth (see "The Boy Who Invented Television"), the Secret Service (see "Starling of the White House"), turn-of-the-century magicians (see "Houdini!!!," "Hiding the Elephant," and "Kellar's Wonders"), ...more
Apr 08, 2008 Woodge rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everybody
This is a thrilling, romantic, fascinating book and will probably be my favorite book read this year. Carter Beats the Devil is a historically fact-based novel about magician Charles Carter who performed in the golden age of magic (1890s thru the 1920s). This story pits Carter against rival magicians and Secret Service agents who suspect Carter had a hand in the death of President Harding. I was drawn in from the get-go. This book is full of suspense, humor, and panache. It came highly recommend ...more
Magic, thriller, period - three specific strands and together they make for a great book.

Set in the fictional world of 1920s magic, this references real people, such as Houdini, but the set-up is pure imagination.

Funny, entertaining, nail-biting and genuinely heart-warming, this is one of those books that not that many people have read, but should be recommended to everyone! I love it!

As a footnote, the author is Alice "Lovely Bones" Sebold's husband
Nov 19, 2008 Andy rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: presto digital dictators
Great sprawling blockbuster about battling magicians that goes on too long. I liked it but began irritating me after awhile because it had that "I wanna be a movie!" vibe that also marred "Da Vinci Code" and "Kavalier and Clay". It's like the writer custom made the book for Robert Zemeckis or Barry Sonnenfeld to direct into a big budget movie. Thank God they didn't take the bait.
Ron Charles
Vaudeville is back. But don't look to the stage; look to the page. For the second time this month, the curtain is rising on a delightful novel about entertainment before television and movies. First, Elizabeth McCracken played the straight man in "Niagara Falls All Over Again," the story of a Laurel and Hardy comedy team. Now - shazam! - Glen David Gold has revealed "Carter Beats the Devil," an enormous historical novel about an early 20th-century magician.

Although he's since vanished from the c
Ray Campos
Glen David Gold's Carter Beats the Devil is something that's becoming increasingly rare: a novel about magic with no fantasy elements in it. But what makes the book truly remarkable is Gold's ability to make real-world stage magic just as interesting and amazing as the feats performed by that uppity British kid in the big glasses: even when the reader is told how the tricks are done.

The book gives us the tale of Charles Joseph Carter, a real-life magician thrown into a highly fictionalized story
Elijah Spector
Hooray for dollar books! I already wanted to read this, and the cover really cinched the deal, so when I found it in a bargain bin, it was a done deal, and in a fit of spontaneity I began reading it immediately.

What I did not expect, upon starting the book, was that if you were to cut out about two thirds of Carter Beats the Devil it would become a thriller. It would be considerably less enjoyable and entertaining than it is, but beneath all the quirk, the history, and the personalities there is
Dec 06, 2013 Clint rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
What an awesome, perfect book! I can't believe it was the writer's first, either, it's 560 pages and never gets boring. I don't know how accurate it is, but according the blurbs, very. This books will totally take you back to about 100 years ago, before television takes over the entertainment world, and gives the reader a good feeling for what America was like back then, especially California. There are lots of historical figures that pop up, alternate history, Malacca Straights pirates, the fir ...more
A disappointing read, Carter Beats the Devil is both overlong and underwritten. The historical detail just about succeeds in evoking the pre-WWI and interwar years in which the majority of book is set, but the characters, especially Carter himself, are strangely one-dimensional, and the plot is ludicrous, and, ironically, boring. You want books like this to be rip-roaring page-turners, but honestly, for all the supposed "magic" in the book it really wasn't very magical or exciting. I feel like G ...more
Wow! This is one of my favorite books ever! History, mystery, and a little romance all set in long ago San Francisco so what's not to like? I'm amazed that this is Mr. Gold's first novel and agree with one review that once you're into it, it's hard not to want the answers, but wishing the book would never end. Ah, but alas, I've read the last page - the one with all the publishing information; that's how good it was.

2/10/13 - Still good, even the second time! Found nuances I missed the first tim
Ed Mestre
What a magical book both literally & figuratively. Gold has researched & researched not only an era, but a subculture of vaudeville & the magician's circuit during its golden age that few of us have any memory or knowledge of. He weaves it together with actual events (who knew San Francisco had a major blizzard in 1897?) and1920's historical figures from a president to inventors. Not to mention that there really was a magician named Charles Carter AKA Carter the Great. Oh this defini ...more
Carter Beats The Devil came into my life because of Wil Wheaton. I basically upped my Photoshop Wil Wheaton game, got asked "Is that from Carter Beats The Devil?!" and had to buy the book when I randomly stumbled across it six months later.

Hypnotising readers for the past decade with his portrait of a 1920s magic-obsessed America, he follows Charles Carter - Carter the Great - whose skill as an illusionist exceeds that of even Houdini. It's basically historical fiction that, for once, isn't set
"Tragedies with happy endings," he interrupted. "Never underestimate them."

I bought this book a few years ago in the clearance section. It was chosen as a book club pick, so I finally ended up reading it! Definitely worth it!

Even though this is highly fictionalized, it was obvious Glen David Gold did a massive amount of research. It read as though it could have been a nonfiction. Carter the Great, Houdini, President Harding, Philo & television.

This was a touch of Sherlock Holmes; a dash of
Brian Poole
Carter Beats the Devil was one of those novels you hate to see end.

The 2001 work by Glen David Gold is hard to categorize. Carter Beats the Devil focuses on Charles Carter, a stage magician in 1920s San Francisco facing a career crossroads. Beset by a taunting rival, with the entertainment revolution represented by movies gathering steam, Carter grapples with the need to pull off something amazing to save his career. Flashbacks to earlier points in Carter’s life trace his development from a priv
Robin King
An engaging story of Carter the Great with fantastic illusions and fun historical tidbits.


My Opinion: The backdrop of this story is one of historical events mixed in with possibility. As a master of illusions, Carter grows from a child fascinated with magic to an adult who lives for it.

The details that went into the staging and magic acts were flawless. The descriptions gave me the illusion of being an audience member back when Houdini or Carter took the stage. I Iiked that the magic in the
Yes it was obviously a first novel. Gold seemed determined to cram every bit of research, every idea he had into this. Its length came not from padding but from an inability to leave anything out. a more experanced writer might have held some ideas thoughts and research back for another novel but I suspect Gold did not know if there would be another novel so in it went.[return][return] I do hope he has enough left over for another [return]Neal Stephenson is the only author I can think of who can ...more
While this story wasn't about the type of magic that I'm usually drawn to (where witches and wizards rule, where incantations can tear the fabric of reality, where wands are instruments of thought), it was still magic, and it still had me captivated from the second that Carter started his campaign to beat the Devil. I found myself smiling and slightly in awe by just the descriptions of Carter's final act...and wishing there was some way that I could have witnessed that show in person.

There are s
Aug 31, 2008 Treplovski rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Fans of Magic, Historical Fiction
Recommended to Treplovski by: 62 pages of reviews
I just had to reread this. There have been damn few times in my life that I've laughed out loud, I mean the really gasp-in-amazement, my-god-this is-colossal kind of laugh, while reading a book. The how-the-hell-did-they-DO-that sputtering laughter reserved for CGI effects. Movies, TV, plays, that's the places you indulge yourself like that, certainly not in the solitude of your favorite chair with a novel in your face. People might talk. "What the hell's going on in there?"

Let 'em. This is the
I originally read this book in 2004, right after Kavalier and Clay. Which did not bode well for it. Both books deal with magic and early 20th century entertainment, but Carter suffered from some plot contrivances and general hokiness that made it pale in comparison to Chabon's novel. Not to mention Kavalier and Clay is a "serious" novel with lots of brooding and metaphors while Carter is much more lighthearted and wistful. Which, now that I've read it again, I really don't see as a fault.
The nov
Jan 01, 2013 Viajero rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: no one
By reading the introduction chapter of Carter Beats the Devil you may think you are before a good, solid mystery novel. It has a remarkable, well-written opening. In an evening of August third, 1923, after having taken part in an impressive stage magic show, US President Warren G. Harding is found dead. The master magician, Charles Carter, finds himself in the center of mysterious scheme as Secret Service agents investigates a “secret” President Harding may have been harboring before his sudden ...more
Cinco estrellas tenía, con cinco estrellas se queda :)

Me leì por primera vez "Carter Engaña Al Diablo" en diciembre de 2003 así que, dados mis problemas de alzheimer literario, me apetecía mucho repetir lectura; sobre todo, porque el recuerdo, hasta donde llegaba, era muy bueno, más que bueno... ¿Qué recordaba yo? La apasionante historia de un mago que se enamora de una chica ciega, pero eso es sólo la punta del iceberg.

La verdad es que esta magnífica primera novela de Gold (por cierto que la se
Katie Thomas
This is a book that will make me get a lump in my throat every time I think of it it. I think Glen David Gold is as good a writer as Philip Roth and that is really saying something. His work is similar because he writes about history in a way that lets you go back in time and live it. You are so blown away by the research that you are then floored that the could spin it into a story. This is a book about the 20s when vaudeville magicians were the most famous people on the planet (like Oprah or t ...more
"я просто хотів показати, що деякі фокуси дуже хитрі. аж занадто хитрі. мені, виконавцеві, прикро, коли я щось роблю, а ніхто цього не помічає".
мабуть, у письменницькій роботі теж таке є. коли ти вибудовуєш текст, створюючи фантастичні фігури, а читач потім відмовляється їх бачити, повторюючи несмішний жарт про сині штори. на щастя, письменники не так часто бачать безпосередні читацькі реакції (або їхню відсутність), як фокусники.
але то так, асоціації. книжка ж – захопливий роман про ілюзіоніста
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Glen David Gold is best known as the author of Carter Beats the Devil (Hyperion, 2001), a fictionalized biography of Charles Joseph Carter (1874-1936), an American illusionist performing from c.1900-1936. He writes in a narrative style, and the book was hailed as a very respectable venture into historical fiction. Gold is married to Alice Sebold, the author of The Lovely Bones and Lucky. The coupl ...more
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“There were never moments in your life when you actually saw something end, for whether you knew it or not something else was always flowering. Never a disappearance, always a transformation.” 9 likes
“Faith was a choice. So, it followed, was wonder.” 3 likes
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