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The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  620 ratings  ·  98 reviews
Award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author Joe Posnanski enters the world of Harry Houdini and his legions of devoted fans in an immersive, entertaining, and magical work on the illusionist’s impact on American culture—and why his legacy endures to this day.

Harry Houdini. Say his name and a number of things come to mind. Escapes. Illusions. Magic. Chain
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published October 22nd 2019 by Avid Reader Press / Simon Schuster
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Nov 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
At various points Harry Houdini lied about where he was born, when he was born, how he met his wife, and he routinely got fictional accounts of his escapes in newspapers. Hell, Harry Houdini wasn’t even his real name. So how do you write a biography about a man whose entire life was built around tricking people and sensationalizing himself?

What the writer has done here is to focus less on the details of Houdini’s life. Sure, we get the basic facts and educated guesses when necessary, and there’s
Aug 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In full disclosure, this is my husband's book. It's really a fun book that's more magical history and personal stories than revealing how magic is done. What I like best is that after several years of crafting this book, Joe is done! I can plan social events, sweep under Joe's desk and remind him to take out the trash on Tuesday nights. But seriously, I remember telling Joe "there are a lot of books out there on Houdini." Delivery trucks would startle our standard poodle, Westley (not in the ack ...more
Jill Hutchinson
This is a magic book about magic. Of course, it depends on what one calls magic. We all know that the magician is hiding the truth from the audience but the good magician can hold one spellbound and make us believe. This was the secret of Harry Houdini.

Houdini, who was fairly talented with cards, coins, scarves, etc, knew he needed something else to become famous. He discovered that his "escapes" were the answer and there are at least two of his routines in which the secret of "how did he do tha
Porter Broyles
Nov 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just finished The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini. I do not care for the books title, it does not describe the book. The title implies that the book is a biography of Harry Houdini and hints that it might delve into the "afterlife" of Harry Houdini. This is more of an introduction to modern magic history for the non-magician.

Joe Posnanski's explores the impact that Harry Houdini made on the field of magic. How did Houdini influenced magicians in his lifetime and the 100 years since. Posnansk
Sep 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Joe Posnanski is my favorite sportswriter. I love how he is a great storyteller, but also has a respect for complexities. How sometimes the facts don’t let you shove things into the narrative you had planned. Posnanski has a gift for weaving the complexities into his articles as just another interesting layer in the story.

In The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini, you can see this skill on display. He unravels the stories and facts about Harry Houdini like peeling and onion, if peeling an onion
Apr 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2020
Posnanski is one of my most favorite sportswriters, and Harry Houdini one of my favorite biographical topics.

So, I was a bit torn, actually; because I have read enough about Houdini. I didn't really need another book about him.

Anyway, I bought it and I enjoyed it.

Less a bio, it's equally about his Legacy. Houdini is a person everyone has heard of, regardless of age and location. Heck, even today's stars are not that ubiquitous.

It's a bit in the style of "Confederates in the Attic", interviewing
Erin Zzona
This year I have been focusing on reading books with strong womxn on womxn content. In order to reinvigorate the eroticism of the books that I want to read, I decided to mix it up and read something with strong male ego vibes. This book was O.K. One unexpected and memorable stand out is reading about Dorothy Dietrich, a feminist magician who was the first person to saw a man in half in her magic act on television! Also, there are at least four typos in the first edition text.💋
LynnDee (LynnDee's Library)
This is like a 2.5. The writing is good, and I liked how it was more conversational than academic as some biographies are apt to be. Content-wise, however, I just didn't care. Houdini isn't someone that interests me, and if this wasn't a committee read it would have been a DNF. But if you like Houdini or he interests you, then this may appeal to you.
A fun read by a great storyteller. It’s about Houdini, who I only knew of in general outlines, but better, it’s an insightful book about ambition, showmanship, and the magic community.

3 stars because I liked it, but I didn’t really like Houdini much. The book was easy to read with some entertaining characters. So many people find Houdini compelling, but the closer the look, the less appealing I found his need for fame. And the more his acts seemed like cons. Biography & Memoir
I have read autobiographies. I have read as-told-to autobiographies, where the subject will later come to claim that he has been misquoted. I have read biographies, everything from respectful scholarly tomes to cheap hit jobs. I have read fictionalized biographies and biographical fiction. But I don’t think I have read anything quite like THE LIFE AND AFTERLIFE OF HARRY HOUDINI. While the book itself is perfectly, if narrowly, delightful, I hope that its particular genre doesn’t catch on.

Part of
Angus McKeogh
Jan 16, 2020 rated it liked it
Just magnified my ignorance of Houdini. There’s so much myth and self-promotion it’s difficult to tell where the man started and where the actual character begins. Informative read.
Entertaining but not a straight biography. This is much more a book about Houdini the myth (how Erik Weisz grew his reputation and how his legend has lived on in the imagination) than Houdini the man.
Susan Degnan
Dec 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I must admit I was a bit hesitant to read this book considering the author's profile and previous books written.
I was happily mistaken!
I have been a Houdini fan for over 40 years.
I have read most of the books mentioned in this book, and seen almost all of the movies, films and TV shows mentioned.
I still found interesting insightful information in book.
I would recommend it to anyone with any interest level in Houdini to read. Thoroughly enjoyable!
Morgan Hedglin
Dec 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Oh man. I knew nothing about Houdini before this book except for his name and that he escaped chains and water chambers, but there are so many more fascinating details. The man himself had such an unyielding personality and inspired true wonder in all who met him. The book also reads like a fun conversation with Joe and the people he interviews. Now I'd really like to go to Scranton, PA to the Houdini museum.
Keith Chawgo
Jan 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Posnanski has a love for his subject study and is able to bring this to the fore with his biography on the great and flawed Harry Houdini.

This is not a straight forward biography on Houdini but then again considering the hoops the author has to jump through and the misinformation about the man, Posnanski has done this with his winning formula. Using exhaustive methods to draw out the story behind the myth and legend and moving things back to the reality, the book is a testament to bring a faith
Nov 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
First published at Booking in Heels.

This isn’t the first non-fiction book about Harry Houdini I’ve read. I’ve also picked up both The Secret Life of Houdini and Houdini and Conan Doyle. Luckily, each book approaches Harry Houdini from a different angle, so I still feel like I’ve learned something every time.

The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini probably isn’t the best place to start when you’re first starting out learning about Houdini; I’d recommend The Secret Life… for that. However, once th
Jun 21, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought Posnanski was an inspired sports writer--his writing may have been the first sports writing I ever read. And, like many, many others, I've always been fascinated with Houdini. This is not a biography per se--more like a long-form essay or collections of columns (as written for a daily newspaper) on why Houdini is universally known almost 150 years after his birth and what makes Houdini different from many other, and some would argue better, magicians/illusionists/escape artists.

One ma
John Behle
I speed listened to narrator Jacques Roy's clarion toned audiobook CD version. Joe Posnanski serves up this bio that also weaves social history of entertainment and technology of the 1890's to 1920's. The later chapters are Posnanski's adventures and mayhem attempts to track down every expert on Houdini. He shows up at a rare Houdini film (the only known copy) screening at a home/museum/fan club in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

And, yes, he does spill the secret beans on a select few of Houdini's vaun
There have been more exhaustive books about Houdini's life, but Posnanski employs a different strategy. He hits the high lights of the escape artist's life but also interviews magicians, card trick artists, escape artists and historians of magic, each giving their own observations about Harry Houdini along the way. This gives a reader just coming to the subject some idea of why Houdini's name continues to endure nearly a century after his death. There are glimpses into his psyche, and a grasp of ...more
Andrew Wolgemuth
Posnanski is a great storyteller and a great weaver-together of stories, and this book puts his skills on display. It's far from a typical biography, but it provides a wonderful account of Houdini's remarkable life. And it's far from a history book, but it sets the record straight on any number of false bits of Houdini lore. It also explores the breadth of Houdini's influence and following, the nature of "magicians" and escape artists, and the idea of wonder. A fun read.
Nov 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Posnanski draws inspiration from his lifelong passion for and obsession with magic, blending biography, memoir, and first-person reporting to examine Harry Houdini’s life and legacy. This is the ultimate journey to uncover why this magic man endures, and what he still has to teach the world about wonder.
May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is the most engrossing book I've read in a couple of months. Posnanski really does write like a feature writer in a sports magazine, but I really love that style. What I'm trying to say is, he wrote an autobiography that seemed more centered around an event than merely a man. As much as the details, and misdirections, about Houdini's life are fascinating, Posnanski captures the most amazing facet of his legacy: his effect on other people's imagination. Half the people he interviews don't ev ...more
Mortisha Cassavetes
Nov 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2020
I have been fascinated with Harry Houdini my whole life and this book was just the book for me. I really enjoyed learning more about this man that left the earth way too early. The book follows his childhood, magical life, marriage and his afterlife. I highly recommend it!
Cris Edwards
Oct 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
A book as much about the legend of Houdini as the man himself. Contemporary magic aficionados and historians give their takes on the myths surrounding the iconic escape artist and some interesting views on why Houdini is still such a part of culture. Houdini was a mediocre magician, the first and last escape artist, and, above all, a relentless self promoter. But what he represents is still deeply fascinating.
Nov 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Simply the best book I’ve ever read about Harry Houdini.
A lot of research and time went into this one.
Jim Savastio
Nov 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an enjoyable and enlightening read of a rather enigmatic figure in popular culture. I have greatly enjoyed Joe's writing in other settings--his Soul of Baseball is one of my all time favorite reads. This is a breezy, fun, read.
Jason Snell
Oct 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Joe Posnanski trapped himself in a difficult situation by choosing to write about a person who became a character who became an idea who became a metaphor. He managed to wriggle his way out by writing this excellent book. He's a regular Houdini.

And that's the point. I didn't know almost anything about Houdini the person, so this was a great introduction. But what makes this book sing is that it's also about Houdini the idea. Not a day goes by where someone doesn't reference him, doesn't call som
Allen Adams

“The secret of showmanship consists not of what you really do, but what the mystery-loving public thinks you do.” – Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini.

It’s a name that even now, almost a century after his death, remains familiar to the vast majority of Americans. A cultural sensation during the early part of the 20th century, Houdini captured the popular imagination in a way that few ever have or ever will.

Magician. Escape artist. Skeptic. Houdini was all these th
Ramsey Ess
Oct 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Originally published in Issue 15 of “Sincere, Positive Things”:

In my mind, Joe Posnanski is first and foremost a podcaster: host of the Poscast alongside his co-host Mike Schur. It’s great for baseball minutiae, Cleveland Browns minutiae, and-- well, everything minutiae. Then I found out he was a sportswriter and started reading his work in that field. Then he mentioned that he was writing a very different kind of book.

His new book, The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini, a book about not just
Dustin Manning
Nov 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There’s something truly enjoyable about reading multiple books in the same subject .. and that is the little bits of new information that each new author is able to bring to light. Sometimes that info is directly related to the subject ( in this case there seemed to be a bit more delving into the myths and background of said myths that Houdini spread about himself ) and even more fun ( for me at least ) is the secondary or tangential information that surrounds the subject ( in this case ie just ...more
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Joe Posnanski is national columnist for NBC Sports. He has been named National Sportswriter of the Year and twice was awarded the best sports columnist in America by The Associated Press Sports Editors.

He has written five books:

“The Good Stuff,” was a collection of columns.

“The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America,” won the Casey Award as best baseball book of 2007.


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