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The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of the World's Greatest Mystifier
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The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of the World's Greatest Mystifier

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  1,342 ratings  ·  201 reviews
Since his death eighty years ago, Harry Houdini's life has been chronicled in numerous books, films and on television. Now, in this groundbreaking biography, renowned magic expert William Kalush and bestselling writer Larry Sloman find the man behind the myth. Drawing from millions of pages of research, they describe in vivid detail the passions that drove Houdini to perfo ...more
Paperback, 590 pages
Published 2007 by Pocket Books (first published 2006)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,825)
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Orsolya
Being Hungarian, there are a few things we take credit for: goulash, the Rubik’s Cube, and Houdini (born In Hungary to Austro-Hungarian parents). William Kalush and Larry Sloman’s “The Secret Life of Houdini” came to my attention after visiting a local museum exhibit on fellow-Hungarian Houdini and magic.

Although looking forward to “The Secret Life of Houdini”; I almost forfeited (before even truly beginning) when the authors announced that they have “dramatized scenes, “shifted what people sai
...more
Libbie
When I set out to find resources for my in-progress novel about Houdini, I was recommended this book by a professional magician who knows an awful lot about the subject, but I was given a caveat: "Don't pay too much attention to all the spy stuff."

If you don't pay too much attention to all the spy stuff--and there is a lot of spy stuff with very tenuous, almost silly evidence to back it up--this is still a difficult book to sift through. It's partially written in a narrative voice and partially
...more
Tony Mercer
I knew about as much as the layman about Houdini; he was the greatest magician ever and an expert at escapes. This book was really revelatory and fascinating. I never realized Houdini grew up as an extremely poor Jewish Hungarian immigrant who left home as a teenager to make it big. More than just a magician he was an author, an actor, an investor, one of the early airplane pilots, a spy (though I'm not sure how involved he was), and the leading antagonist against spiritualist mediums communicat ...more
Lance Schaubert
(originally @ http://lanceschaubert.org/2012/01/18/... )

As a kid, I ingested Houdini biographies like most kids ingest chocolate. As a kid, Houdini snatched up Robert Houdin biographies like most kids snatched up wallets. I found myself taunting my brother to handcuff, shackle and hog tie me to my own bedposts and lock the door just so I could escape through the bedroom window and go wash dishes until he found me again. Houdini contorted himself as often as the manager at The Welsh Circus allowe
...more
Carl Rollyson
Not to keep you in suspense any longer: The secret is that Harry Houdini may have been a spy, an operative for the U.S. Secret Service, and other police organizations here and abroad. Unfortunately, the evidence is circumstantial, the biographers' conclusions inconclusive.

To be sure, Houdini hung out with cops and ops. He was, after all, the handcuff king, escaping from every kind of lock and chain the fuzz fettered him with — including treacherous thumb cuffs that tore the skin on Houdini's fin
...more
Kate
Before reading this, I knew next to nothing about Harry Houdini. But after getting through this incredibly long slog of a book, I feel like he and I have come out on the other side as friends. It's like we were both in it together, and the whole time he was saying to me, "Hey, don't blame me, I didn't write this thing" and I just kept saying, "Don't worry Harry, it's not your fault." He was an incredibly interesting and all around amazing and likable guy. He definitely had his crazy moments, but ...more
Manny
Very interesting life of Ehrich Weiss AKA Harry Houdini, was a very interesting figure. This book discussed the meagre upbringing of Houdini and how he was able to turn a childhood passion of magic to a brilliant career. During his zenith, he was very wealthy man. It also delved into the dispute with the spiritualists and how eventually lead him to his downfall. This was an interesting book. I was not sure if I would like this book, but I enjoy biographies. I enjoy story of resilience where peop ...more
Greg Pettit
I just couldn't get through it. Although I am very interested in Houdini, the style of this book made it difficult to get into. I found myself struggling to get through chapters, and not looking forward to picking it up each time. That's not the kind of book I want to read, especially about a character as interesting as Houdini.

Another problem for me came in the unorthodox style of the narrative. Overall, it was chronological as you would expect, but within sections it would jump around forward
...more
Emily
I really wanted to love this book -- Houdini has been one of my favorite characters from history since childhood. I watched the Tony Curtis movie about him over and over again, got really into magic (had my parents take me to see David Copperfield live, I bought many magic trick kits), and was always fascinated by him. I was obviously really excited when this book came out, but it became extremely boring very quickly. The book goes into such great detail and trudges along at such a slow pace, it ...more
Jessica
I think this was a lot harder to read for me than it probably was for a lot of other people. I'm not sure exactly what it was, but I think it has something to do with the lack of interest the authors showed in who Houdini was during his heyday.

There was a lot of detail in this book...a LOT...but not so much about Houdini's tricks, shows and escapades. I mean, they would throw in an occasional tidbit about how he did something, such as shoving a key up his arse when doing his nude-escape-from-han
...more
Rik
From a little boy on up, I've always been intrigued by the great escape artist and magician, Houdini. The authors do a good job of fully setting forth his life in words and pictures. I wanted a bit more about the times of this superb athlete and showman, but I have no real criticism with what was delivered. The concluding chapters of this long 550+ page opus detail his battles with Arthur Conan Doyle and the rest of the Spiritualists who took great pleasure in Houdini's untimely and suspicious d ...more
Hanna
First published on Booking in Heels.

This is the only biography of Harry Houdini that I have read, so I have no idea how it measures up in comparison to any others. However, I can tell you how much I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I whipped through this thick, fairly heavy non-fiction in three days and enjoyed every second. It's engrossing, accessible and just generally fascinating throughout.

To begin with, it's thorough but not to the point of boredom. I don't feel the need for biographies to tel
...more
MirandaLeest
Zeer interessant boek. Ik kende Houdini eigenlijk alleen als boeienkoning, maar hij had nog veel meer spectaculaire stunts op zijn naam staan. In een tijd zonder tv en internet wist hij toch wereldwijd bekend te raken. Hij was er dan ook een meester in om in de publiciteit te komen, bijvoorbeeld door zich te laten uitdagen om nog extremere stunts te doen. Uiteraard lukte het Houdini altijd om die stunt goed uit te voeren, hierdoor raakten zijn fans nog enthousiaster. Zij wisten echter niet dat d ...more
The Joy of Booking
I've always loved magic shows and magicians, and of course that means Houdini. But aside from the standard information everyone seems to pick up, I didn't know anything else about him.

Boy, did this book teach me a lot! The research is detailed and in-depth. The authors are speculating a bit about the "secret life" he may have led, but the evidence they have to back it up is pretty compelling. Some of the things that they tease out about Houdini are astounding - did you have any idea that he was
...more
Red
A good book. I'd never read anything in depth about Houdini. I knew him as a magician, an escape artist. This book introduced me to Houdini the aviator (first man to fly in Australia), Houdini the spy, Houdini the public crusader.

The authors set out to prove, as the subtitle suggest, that Houdini was America's first superhero, the first superman. Houdini worked his whole life, beginning as a kid and eventually getting into vaudeville. His break came when he visited a police station in Chicago an
...more
Amanda
Sep 07, 2008 Amanda rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in Biographys and/or Magic
Recommended to Amanda by: My Father
I enjoyed the book. It was a lengthy read for me because of the style of writting, but I enjoyed it throughly. No person is perfect and Houdini made it certain that everyone knew that of himself, while also perfecting his "magic". I don't like Biographies that come across as nothing but praise for the person, this almost hit that note... nothing and no person came close to Houdini... that is what the Authors did... although mentioning that he had many love affairs... but only mentioning them. On ...more
Tony Hightower
Honestly, this is the only book on Harry Houdini most people will ever need. This tome covers his ancestry and birth in Hungary as Ehrich Weiss, his family's emigration to the United States, his growing fascination and obsession with magic, his long and phenomenally successful career as the greatest theatrical performer of the first half of the 20th century, as well dropping loud hints about a potential side career doing espionage work and how it evolved into an obsession with debunking spirit m ...more
Lisa
Houdini had a fascinating life, no questions asked, but this biography brought his story to a whole new level. The authors include extensive research and citations from period newspapers, magical collections, diaries, and government records to bring the man who arguably will always be our foremost magician to a whole new level.

For instance, did you know that Houdini was the twenty-fifth man to fly a plane and the first to fly in Australia? Or that he was pressured to become an advisor to the tsa
...more
Matt
Jan 15, 2008 Matt rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who loves a great story
i knew next to nothing about harry houdini (the erstwhile erich weiss) before reading this book. after reading it, i felt like i'd know houdini my entire life. such is the incredible detail the authors injected into the book. and i think i can honestly say he's the coolest dood ever.

more than anything, i came away from the reading with a profound admiration for the man behind the magic. he may very well be the most dynamic personality of the first quarter of the 19th century. while he's primaril
...more
Klajdi
Very great and very interesting biography on Harry Houdini. He is known as "the pioneer of magic" and the person who made it the most interesting, and I could not agree more with those nicknames. One person that I really enjoyed learning about (besides Harry Houdini, of course) was Houdini's wife, Bess. The trait that I give her now was completely different from the trait I thought that I would give her. I thought that Bess would be very open about her husband and how he deals with all the fame ...more
Tom
May 22, 2013 Tom rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Houdini fans.
An enjoyable trip back to my youth, when I was fairly completely obsessed with Houdini. So were most kids back then, I suppose. I'm not sure if he's the cultural icon now as he was then.

I never knew (or didn't remember) that he was deeply involved in the early aviation days. The book says he was the first person to fly a plane in Australia. I've read since that is debatable, but still, no one doubts that he was one of the earliest aviators.

Nearly half of the book is a deep look at his fights wi
...more
Lauren Schumacher
Most of my understanding of Harry Houdini comes from the musical Ragtime, and his songs are usually the first up on the abridgment chopping block, so almost everything in this biography was new information to me. I was aware that Houdini was the child of Jewish immigrants, and that he was a famous magician/escape artist who died after inviting someone to punch him in the abdomen: that was it.

I had no idea that Houdini was involved in (and most famous for in his time for) unmasking and discrediti
...more
Deb
I enjoyed this audiobook very much. I thought the author did a very good job presenting the great magician's life story. I live near Harry Houdini's boyhood hometown of Appleton, WI and have a business in the downtown College Avenue and Third Ward district area where young Harry use to run and play. I knew some of Houdini's past but learned quite a bit more from this biography by William Kalush. Love the story of how Harry first figured out how to unlock a pair of handcuffs after a local Appleto ...more
Jim
I have been vaguely interested in Houdini since I saw the Tony Curtis movie on TV about 30 years ago, but never pursued the subject until I found this book at a friend's garage sale. Unfortunately the book is alternately exhaustive on certain subjects and sketchy on others. Topics don't connect to each other and the timeline jumps backwards and forwards, seemingly at random.

Most frustrating were dramatic threads that appear, take center stage, then disappear. And too much innuendo that never goe
...more
Rory
Oct 28, 2008 Rory rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Houdini fanatics
Shelves: memoirs-and-bios
You know, I'm totally the kind of person who should have LOVED this book but...it wasn't very lovable. Yes, it was very well researched--the authors even brag about some creepily detailed computer program they built from scratch to track Houdini's life "day by day, as much as possible. But the book had no soul, no effusion, and no ease.

Houdini lead a fascinating life and was a fascinating person--why is this book not fascinating? Partly because the authors are too focused on "proving" their fli
...more
Scott Klemm
The excerpt from the London Sunday Times review that appears on the dust jacket of The Secret Life of Houdini praises the authors Kalush and Sloman for raking through “every known Houdini archive to produce the most comprehensive and controversial biography ever written about the man, with its contention that he was a spy who may have been murdered by a cult.” If all the facts are fully documented, why is there any controversy?

In their Introduction the authors state, “To make certain stories c
...more
Mattie
I wanted to read this after seeing an exhibit on Harry Houdini at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, even though I'm not usually a major biography fan. I'm glad I did. Well researched and full of fascinating details that provide historical context and personal interest, The Secret Life of Houdini presents Houdini's personal and professional story as a gripping yarn, making this bio great fun to read.

There's a lot going on here to think about: Houdini's story as an immigrant made g
...more
Bob
I've been a fan of magic and Houdini since I was a kid. When I was about in the sixth grade, our school librarian took the only Houdini Biography off the shelf because I kept signing it out and she wanted others to have a chance to read it. Needless to say, when I first saw this book, I could't wait to buy and read it too.
It's really a Houdini biography for adults. By that, I mean, that it details his likes, business dealings, desires and obsessions to be the greatest. It's too and that he spen
...more
VanHalen
Aug 08, 2010 VanHalen rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in magic, historical buffs
Recommended to VanHalen by: Penn Jillette
I suspect that I am an easy mark when it comes to books.

There are many reasons why I liked this book, the least of which is the largest word in the title: Houdini.

I have not read any prior biographies of the man, but he has been an interest for years and I have been to the Houdini Historical Center in Appleton, Wisconsin.

This book details some of the off inconsistencies which surrounded Ehrich Weiss aka Harry Houdini before, during and after his ascendancy to the world stage. As a talent & a
...more
Kim
This was a fantastic biography. I don't read a lot of nonfiction because normally they just don't grab me in the same way fiction does, even when I'm interested in the subject matter. But this one was a compulsive, page-turning read. I've always been interested in both stage magic and Houdini, ever since I was little. But although I knew most of the big points of Houdini's life story, I had never read a biography of him. This one is very well written and convincing in its presentation of the fac ...more
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