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The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini

3.56  ·  Rating Details  ·  126 Ratings  ·  14 Reviews
For many performers, stage life and real life are separate identities. For master illusionist Harry Houdini, the two were inextricably linked. In this widely acclaimed biography, Ruth Brandon shows how Houdini’s obsession with his own mortality drove him to create death-defying stunts that not only captivated the public but also subdued his own raging psychological demons. ...more
Paperback, 392 pages
Published October 21st 2003 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 1993)
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Aug 27, 2011 Dfordoom rated it really liked it
Harry Houdini is one of those legendary characters whose names have become metaphors but as the author of The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini points out there are people who don’t even realise that he actually existed. And the more you read about the greatest escapologist of them all the more you can’t help feeling that truth really is stranger than fiction.

Houdini was conscious of his own legend and had no qualms about improving and embroidering it. It’s not even certain where and when he
Jun 23, 2016 Laura rated it it was ok
This biography is such a disaster. Clearly, Brandon didn't have an editor, or at the very least had an editor who is terrible at her job. I'm not sure why the book was organized the way it was; there was no effort to chronologize Houdini's life, which makes this the most confusing and frustrating biography I've ever read. There are many moments where the author actually thinks we're interested in her life, as if we picked up a biography on Harry Houdini just to learn about Ruth Brandon (very hap ...more
Dec 05, 2007 David rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: performers
I thoroughly appreciated this biography because it talked a lot about the nature of performance, and the performer's life. Harry Houdini's escape acts were not just acts: they were a compulsion, an affirmation of life. They were like religious rituals, sacred, important. In this way, I think anyone who does any kind of performance--because he/she needs to, because it is impossible to live without it--can identify with Houdini's life.
One quibble: there is a factual error when the author talks abo
Aug 03, 2011 Autumn rated it really liked it
Good introduction to Houdini's life story. He's been hovering around the edges of my reading life for a while, but this is the first bio of his that I've read. Brandon lays down the basics with a not unreasonable amount of Freudian analysis. You meet lots of interesting characters along the way -- my favorite is Margery, the debunked spiritualist who kept her "ectoplasmic" pseudopod in her no-no.

As an obsessive nerd, this just makes me want to read more Houdini books, so I appreciate the biblio
David Strong
Nov 06, 2013 David Strong rated it really liked it
I picked up this book on a whim while browsing in our public library. I had heard of Houdini since I was a boy growing up in the 1960's, but I did not know much about him. Now I do, and he was a fascinating guy. He not only was (and is) the ultimate escape artist, but he was also a magician, wrote books and acted in silent films. I enjoyed the book alot, but did not give it 5 stars because there are a couple of very slow chapters and the author's style was difficult for me to read. However, if y ...more
Tippy Jackson
Jan 04, 2011 Tippy Jackson rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography, abandoned
Abandoned as too boring. A few interesting moments in the first 50 pages made me think that maybe once it warmed up it could get better. But it was taking too long. The most interesting moment-Houdini, in an attempt to teach his wife a lesson about superstition (despite being very superstitious) made her father's name (which she never told him) appear in blood on his arm. He then tells her how the trick was done. The man was no doubt worth reading about and maybe if this were written in a more s ...more
May 10, 2014 Michelle rated it liked it
Interesting at first, but starts dragging.
Jul 05, 2015 Ashleigh rated it it was amazing
Just...there are no words. I feel like I know him. This was amazing and a must-read for any Houdini enthusiast. <3
Michael Burge
Jan 12, 2013 Michael Burge rated it really liked it
Thoroughly readable exploration of Houdini's life work. Gets to grips with the myths and legends, but pushes the envelope in terms of what we think we know about the man, his family and associates. The unravelling of magic tricks and escape acts, and the cult of magicians, is brilliant. The stories of Houdini's most famous tricks (some of which he bought or inherited, like the 'handkerchief' trick) which have never been explained, are gripping and kind of chilling.
Mar 12, 2015 Jeremy rated it liked it
I've always been interested in Houdini ever since seeing a escape artist perform as a child. Seeing the drive of this man to perform and thwart all rivals as well as getting to see behind the tricks (Illusions, Michael!) was a fun read. The author seemed determined to psychoanalyze Houdini a half century after his death which sometimes was interesting but often said more about the author than the man.
May 03, 2009 Allison rated it liked it
I was pretty disappointed with this book. I was very excited to learn about such a fascinating icon. Instead, I found that the author, in trying to make connections, strayed extrememely off topic. There were also glaring historical inaccuracies, which after reading, made it hard for me to trust any information she gave.
David Ward
Sep 02, 2014 David Ward rated it liked it
Shelves: biography, art
The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini by Ruth Brandon (Random House 1993)(Biography). The author ultimately concludes that Houdini’s obsession with his own mortality led him to create and practice regularly his death-defying stunts and illusions. My rating: 6.5/10, finished 2003.
Jun 29, 2016 Droid16 rated it liked it
I used this book as inspiration for and information to include in a puzzle escape room. It served that purpose well, but otherwise was not an entirely captivating look into Houdini.
Jul 20, 2011 Ashley rated it it was amazing
I think it was this one I read.
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“Books were my hobby, even as a child,' he told me. 'I read about every book in Milkwaukee Public Library before I was 15...Some of the books I didn't understand- but I read them just the same. I believed, you see, that my life work would be teaching, so I wanted to learning everything I could about every possible subject.” 1 likes
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