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Carter Beats the Devil

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  12,056 ratings  ·  984 reviews
Charles Carter is Carter the Great, a name given to him by Harry Houdini. Carter became a magician out of need. Only at the performance, when an audience is brought together by a single experience, can Carter defeat his fear of loneliness.
Paperback, 591 pages
Published May 1st 2002 by Sceptre (first published September 5th 2001)
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4.09  · 
Rating details
 ·  12,056 ratings  ·  984 reviews

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Wil Wheaton
Sep 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Gold’s book is loosely based on the life of Charles Carter, a real magician. After reading his Wikipedia page, I appreciate that Gold was more than willing to stretch the historical facts for the amusement of the reader.

The book starts off with the death (murder?) of one of the greatest presidents ever, Warren G. Harding, who could give any president a run for their money in the floozie and corruption departments. Carter is somehow implicated.

Boyhood trauma propels Carter into magic and onto the
Bryce Wilson
Apr 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
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.
Seizure Romero
Jan 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, signed, mine
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
Jill Hutchinson
Jun 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I don't know if I hate or love this book since it is so off-the-wall. I picked it up at a book sale since the cover is very eye-catching but had no idea what it was about. I soon learned that it dealt with the death of President Warren Harding, the rise of the magician, Carter the Great (who was actually a real person), the discovery of television, Houdini, the Secret Service, the Illuminati, and a pet lion!! Mix all those things together and there you have

Basically it is a
Jan 13, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 25, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Wiebke (1book1review)
Jul 09, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: big-books
This book took me longer than it should have. Partly I guess it was my fault, but partly also the book's. This is not a fast paced read, as I always hope big books to be.
Nevertheless, this is a fun book, with intriguing characters, an unpredictable story, many twists and turns that have you at the edge of your seat. There is a mix of action, character's past unraveling and magical shows.
I really liked the way this book was written, despite it being slow. I liked how so many of the character's we
Dec 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Ray Campos
Aug 19, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
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
Mar 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I've learnt about this book from this discussion:
and I love vintage magic posters, which means I also loved this cover, - and these are the two reasons for my reading it ;)
And, of course, it is a bit of a stretch to compare it to Susanna Clarke's novel, so I won't be doing it.

I was kind of disappointed with the beginning: the death of a President and its possible investigation didn't much interest me. Then I fell in love with Carter's story, and by the end
Apr 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Graham Wilhauk
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The best book I have read in 2018 so far and most likely one of the greatest and most enjoyable books I have ever read. Full review to come on the PolarBearAcademy blog.
Jun 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
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 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Richard Levine
Jun 05, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
(3.5 stars)

A pretty fun read, as long as you don't mind reading a lot about magic and magicians. Carter Beats the Devil recounts the fictionalized adventures of an early 20th C. magician, Charles Carter (Carter the Great), who becomes involved in the mysterious death of President Warren G. Harding and then with the teen-aged Philo Farnsworth, the inventor of television. (All real people, although the action of the novel bears almost no resemblance to actual historical events, as best I could tel
Ron Charles
Dec 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Brian Poole
Sep 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 05, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
May 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 02, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: big-white-square
I'm really turned off by magic and I thought this was rather boring. I only read the first third.
Feb 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Historical figures entwined in a fictional plot that builds to a suspenseful conclusion. Stage magic - one of my favorite subjects = plays a big role and there are liberal doses of humor. All in all a good and satisfying read.
Nov 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
This book was not what I was expecting, but I really enjoyed it, nonetheless. It is an interesting story about a magician named Carter the Great. A bit of a tragic life, really. Historical Fiction is one of my favorite genres to read. I really enjoyed learning about the different people and places that were a part of this book. And the fact that it is mostly set in the San Francisco/ Oakland area was definitely a plus.
Jun 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this years ago and still get happy feelings whenever I see it mentioned. Such a fun book!
maya b
Jun 08, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
just found out this is one of leigh bardugo's favorite books and since she is my goddess this must be amazing

DNF @ 51% or page 252
i genuinely think that if i had been reading this at any other time it could have become a favorite book of all time. The anxiety i am feeling for school finals and just my overall depression is not helping me read dense adult fiction novels. I should have been smarter.

depression is
Jan 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 28, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Robin King
Apr 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014-reads
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
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2015 Reading Chal...: Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold 4 14 Oct 15, 2015 06:30AM  

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Glen David Gold is the author of Carter Beats the Devil (Hyperion, 2001), a historical novel about Charles Carter, a real-life San Francisco stage magician who performs for President Warren Harding on the evening of Harding's mysterious death. It has been translated into 14 languages.

His next novel, Sunnyside (Knopf, 2009), is a dark romp concerning Charlie Chaplin's rise to fame during World War
“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.” 13 likes
“Faith was a choice. So, it followed, was wonder.” 7 likes
More quotes…