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The Secret Life of Houdini Hardcover – 20 Nov 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd; 1st Atria Books Hardcover Ed edition (20 Nov. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743272072
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743272070
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 3.9 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 536,452 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Kalush and Sloman appear to have raked 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."-- Tony Barrell, "London Sunday Times"

About the Author

William Kalush is one of the most respected names in the world of magic. Founder of the Conjuring Arts Research Centre, he has collaborated with David Blaine on the magician's world-famous stunts and television specials. Larry 'Ratso' Sloman is an award-winning author best known for his collaboration with Howard Stern on PRIVATE PARTS and MISS AMERICA.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The "Houdini was a spy" aspect of this book - so hyped in the media and debated by magic historians - is a distraction from what should be seen, first and foremost, as a major new Houdini biography loaded with fascinating new facts about the great magician's life and career.

But what of this "spy" thing? Okay. Very quickly - in 1902/3 Houdini sent "reports" from Germany and Russia back to Superintendent Melville of Scotland Yard (who was then head of what could be considered British Intelligence). Does this mean Houdini was a spy, or just a letter writer who felt compelled to report what he was seeing to his friend in London? Authors Bill Kalush and Larry Sloman do make some interesting connections back to America and the shenanigans with Houdini's passport application...but it's all very speculative. For me, this "spy revelation" is just one of many, many new nuggets of information to be found within these fascinating 560 pages...and it's not even the most interesting nugget at that.

I was much more taken with the revelation of Bess Houdini's suicide attempt; a potential third Houdini mistress (Milla Barry); the attack on Houdini's brother in his Harlem home; the Russian Royal family's Rasputian-like fascination with the magician; Montraville M. Wood's involvement in the development of the Milk Can and USD; Lord Northcliff's role in Houdini's aviation career; Houdini's private secret service formed to expose spiritualists (Houdini actually bought a barbershop and trained an agent as a barber so they could communicate incognito); and the very troubling revelation that Margery and Dr. Crandon may have had a hand in the disappearance of several young English boys (freaky stuff this).
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In this comprehensive and thoroughly researched biography of Harry Houdini we are introduced to one of the most complex and sensational entertainers of the early part of the 20th century. Born Erik Weisz to a poor Jewish family in 1887 Budapest, they migrated to Minneapolis in the 1890's where his father eked out a living as a Rabbi and Talmud teacher. From a young age Erik discovered a fascination for locks and other contraptions and the skill to escape from them which lead him along his career path from itinerant escapologist; magician; aviator film maker and finally campaigner against "fraudulent mediums" and spiritualists. Each of his career changes would warrant a book in themselves and this is a tome of a book packed with details of his various ingenious escapes ; his dangerous exploits both on and off the stage; his work as an aviator and a spy for British and American intelligence whilst touring Germany and Russia; and his sometimes fractious relationships with other magicians and performers. Often turning friends into enemies and then vice versa. He even attacked Robert-Houdin, whose name he had taken in a book on him for faking many of his tricks whilst maintaining his continued admiration for him.

Houdini was a showman, a raconteur and someone known to bear a grudge and used his influence within magician's circles to lambast others who he felt were either frauds or plagiarisers of his inventions within his profession.
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Format: Paperback
This is a great book, the life, be it a short one this guy had was unreal. The book is factually written and broken down into easily absorbed chunks. It is 'littered' (in a good way) with old photographs and posters showing Houdini, his wife, places they performed and people he knew.

If you are interested in performing escapes or conjuring, then it is probably not for you. But if you want to know about the master of misdirection, escapology and his life then it is a MUST READ.
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Format: Kindle Edition
4.5 stars

A rather daunting prospect - 600 pages of small type on any subject. This one, I just had to try though - after seeing the television miniseries at Christmas (2014), I really wanted to know more about Houdini, who was suddenly a much more complex and interesting figure than I'd ever realised.

And 600 pages did fly. I took a while over it as I read it over a holiday, but I thoroughly enjoyed the long look at what amounted really to several lives in one.

The authors had clearly done immense amounts of research and turned their hard work into a narrative based around Houdini's stunts, illusions and significant life events, using letters, eyewitness stories and known transcripts of what surely is one of the most significant and interesting lives of the last century.

We follow Houdini from a poor childhood into the world of magic, to meeting his wife, achieving success in his field, innovating and making waves around the world, to his experiments with early flight, cinema and a significant portion looking at his efforts to discredit fake mediums. Wow. Just one life, Harry?

The surprises just kept coming. The injuries he sustained, the lengths he went to for publicity and an audience, Houdini as a magician is magnificent enough a subject. And yet that's just one part of his story.

His famous demise is also covered in depth, and the long-lasting efforts to seek out the truth about his death is objectively covered.

Everything you would want to read about is here - bar one thing. I wanted to see behind some of his tricks, see how the illusions were created. Though I can understand that this isn't the point of the book, though I was disappointed.
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