The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini eBook ↠ and

The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini eBook ↠ and


The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini [Download] ➻ The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini ✤ Joe Posnanski – Capitalsoftworks.co.uk Awardwinning 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 ill Awardwinning journalist and Afterlife Kindle Ð and New York Times bestselling author Joe Posnanski enters the world of Harry Houdini and his legions of devoted fans in an immersive, entertaining, The Life eBook ã and magical work on the illusionist’s impact on American culture—and why his legacy endures to this dayHarry Houdini Say his name and a number of things come Life and Afterlife PDF/EPUB ¿ to mind Escapes Illusions Magic Chains Safes Live burials Close to a century after his death, nearly every person in America knows his name from a young age, capturing their imaginations with his deathdefying stunts and daring acts He inspired countless people, from all walks of life, to find something magical within themselvesThis is a book about a man and his extraordinary life, but it is also about the people who he has inspired in death As Joe Posnanski delves into the deepest corners of Houdiniland, visiting museums one owned by David Copperfield, attractions, and private archives, he encounters a cast of unforgettable and fascinating characters: a woman who runs away from home to chase her dream of becoming a magician; an Italian who revives Houdini’s most famous illusion every night; a performer at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles who calls himself Houdini’s Ghost; a young boy in Australia who, one day, sees an old poster and feels his life change; and a man in Los Angeles whose sole mission is life has been to keep the legend’s name aliveBoth a personal obsession and an odyssey of discovery, Posnanski draws inspiration from his lifelong passion for and obsession with magic, blending biography, memoir, and firstperson 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.


10 thoughts on “The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini

  1. Kemper Kemper says:

    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 a lot about various Houdini legends while comparing them to reality. However, that’s not the main point of this book. Instead of trying to figure out who Houdini was and how he accomplished what he did, the book is more interested in examining how Houdini continues to fascinate and inspire people to this day. Considering that this was a man who whose very name became synonymous with amazing escapes of any kind, that’s an interesting topic.

    Here’s the odd thing for me. I don't really care about magic, and I'm not even that interested in Houdini although he certainly led a memorable life. So why did I read this? Because I am a big fan of Joe Posnanski.

    Posnanski is a sportswriter who was an award winning columnist in Kansas City for many years, and if I had a nickel for every story I read that he wrote about a horrible Royals teams during that time I’d be richer than Bill Gates. I met him once, and he signed a copy of his wonderful book about Buck O’Neil, The Soul of Baseball. I’ve listened to the podcast he does with TV producer Michael Schur and I have even ordered the dish named after him, Posnanski Chicken Spiedini, at a restaurant called Governor Stumpy’s on more a few occasions. (Not only is it really good, but you get a huge portion that gives you great take home leftovers for another meal.)

    The fascinating thing about Posnanski to me is that he isn’t your typical 21st century hot-take sports guy. By modern standards his sports writing could almost be called gentle, and he always seems to be looking for the bright side without seeming naive. He is almost effortlessly funny, too. The thing that really always stood out was that Joe had a knack for finding awe inspiring moments in places that might be overlooked. I always had the feeling that part of the reason he was a sports fan is that it’s a thing where somebody doing something unbelievable is always just a play away.

    However, Joe left Kansas City years ago, and while he’s had several high profile sports writing jobs since, I’ve missed getting a dose of that that kind of optimism a few times a week when I cracked open a open a copy of the Star. Truth be told, I’ve drifted away from watching sports at all in recent years so I don’t seek out Joe’s writing like I used to. I did get a nice reminder of it when a story he wrote about taking his daughter to see Hamilton went viral that made Lin-Manuel Miranda cry.

    So even though I’ve got little interest in magicians, I picked this up just to read some Joe Posnanski. And he delivers by giving us a story about wonder. Houdini might have been a bully, a liar, a jerk, and a shameless self-promoter, but as repeatedly gets pointed out, he was the ultimate showman with a relentless drive. The legend of Houdini has inspired countless other magicians and escape artists, and those are the stories that Posnanski is really telling us here. He wants to figure out why a flawed man whose main talent was putting himself in rigged situations to escape from has managed to flourish in the public imagination for decades after his death.

    To try and answer that Joe talks to everybody from David Copperfield to a reclusive former actor who wrote an incredibly detailed book about Houdini that is nearly impossible to find. Along the way we hear about magic acts, tricks of the escape artist trade, debates about Houdini’s actual skill, and a variety of other topics that all are oriented around trying to puzzle out the appeal of the man. In the end I did learn a lot about Houdini, and it also gave me a lot to think about in terms of what creates legendary fame and how one person's image can inspire countless people long after they're gone.

    If you’re thinking about reading it, and you’re not sure if it’s your cup of tea, here’s a link to the column Posnanski wrote about taking his daughter to see Hamilton . If you enjoy that, there’s a good chance you’ll like this book.


  2. Margo Margo says:

    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 acknowledgements!) who barked at all those deliveries of magic books on our front porch. So he may be the most happy this book is finished. This new Houdini book takes a sweeping yet modern angle on returning to an age where wonder and great escapes were paramount. Westley hopes you get the book on YOUR front doorstep soon!


  3. Jill Hutchinson Jill Hutchinson says:

    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 that have yet to be successfully explained, although theories abound (some of which are included in this book).

    This isn't exactly a biography of Houdini but rather a tour through his career and conversations with modern day popular magicians regarding their attitudes of why Houdini's popularity has continued 100+ plus years after his death. There are current groups/clubs that study his work and collectors (such as the great David Copperfield) who search the world for Houdini memorabilia. The author, also a Houdini fanatic, separates the fact from myth (and there are many myths) through his research and collaboration with Houdini experts.

    Even if you are not particularly a fan of magicians, this book will hold your attention throughout and leave you wondering how Houdini escaped the Mirror Handcuffs which is one of his unexplained tricks. Very well done and very interesting.


  4. Porter Broyles Porter Broyles says:

    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. Posnanski ties the key events and acts in Houdini's life with other magicians.

    Posnanski does not argue that Houdini was a great magician---quite contrary---he accepts the position that he was average at best (he even discusses the premise that Houdini wasn't even a magician). Nevertheless, he argues that Houdini was the most influential and best-known.

    Therein lies the beauty of this book. Posnanski introduces the lay reader to a number of significant magicians---most of whom the magic community knows, but may have been forgotten by non-magicians.

    This is exemplified when he talks about Epic Rap Battle of History--- David Copperfield
    vs Harry Houdini. Yes, there was a chapter dedicated to the rap battle, which tells you the light hearted manner in which the book was written! The key take away here was that while Copperfield was the greatest and best known magician of his generation and is still performing more people know the name Houdini than Copperfield.

    This is a fun very quick read. I just wish it had a different title that was more descriptive of the contents.


  5. Erin Zzona Erin Zzona says:

    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.💋
    XOX
    ~EZ


  6. LynnDee (LynnDee& LynnDee (LynnDee& says:

    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.


  7. Ann-Marie Ann-Marie says:

    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.


  8. Al Al says:

    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 some of the world's biggest Houdini experts, including David Copperfield. Never staying on one topic for too long (and I mean that in a good way), it moves quickly and doesn't drag like biographies sometimes can.

    There is a lot of subjects touched upon. Why is Houdini so great? Experts will tell you he's at best an average magician.

    Certainly myth helps Houdini. Much of what people believe about Houdini comes from those myths. Posnanski explores some of the history and stories that make him enduring, and what is true and what isn't.. This is not a biography, per se. However, I think it could definitely fill those needs for most. Nor is it one-sided, it covers all aspects of the Man.

    I am still awestruck about the Man. Posnanski talks about magic and why it works (not in a physical sense, but in a transcendent sense)- how Houdini could paint an image in our mind, why magicians of today must do certain things to succeed and what drives them.

    I like the parts too where Posnanski and other experts try to figure out the unsolvable mysteries of Houdini. Again, why it works, is because Posnanski touches on so many things, and shares the most interesting elements.

    This is a book I will read and read again, and is a terrific addition to a Houdini shelf. It is interesting that Posnanski in the afterword, said he was going to write about Babe Ruth (Jane Leavy and others have got there first), but his main goal was to write about Wonder.

    He certainly succeeded.


    This is a really fun book




  9. Bookreporter.com Biography & Memoir Bookreporter.com Biography & Memoir says:

    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 this is due to the passage of time. Author Joe Posnanski, who has written an admirable and admiring biography of Negro League great Buck O’Neil (and a disastrously unlucky biography of Penn State coach Joe Paterno, which was penned as the Sandusky scandal was unfolding), understands this; it’s much easier to write a biography when you can talk to and interview the subject, and those who knew the subject. But Houdini died in 1926, over 90 years ago, and everyone who knew him has since passed away. That leaves the biographer with secondary sources. Still, there are Houdini biographies that cover nearly every facet of his life and are tailored to almost every individual taste.

    Where the smart-aleck reviewer asks, “Why, then, does the world need another Houdini biography?” the intrepid author has hit on a solution. THE LIFE AND AFTERLIFE OF HARRY HOUDINI is a biography, after a fashion, although a sketchy one. (Posnanski, faced with the period of Houdini’s life when he invested a good deal of time debunking spiritualism, literally says that he’s not interested and moves on to the next thing.) But the focus of the book is not so much on Houdini himself --- or even on the Houdini mythos, which is difficult enough to separate from reality --- but on the small group of people who are, in the 21st century, obsessed with Houdini.

    Everybody needs a hobby. It is perfectly okay for someone to be interested in Houdini, and if that rises to the point of obsession, who am I to judge? I do not have an obsessive nature myself --- certainly not when it comes to collecting things. The people who Posnanski interviews and profiles in this book have that nature, and collect things, and a good part of the book is the author strolling through their collections. (The most comprehensive of these is that of cheesy TV magician David Copperfield, who has a literal warehouse of stuff related to Houdini specifically and magic in general.)

    The central thesis of THE LIFE AND AFTERLIFE OF HARRY HOUDINI is that Houdini has had an outsize effect on current American society far and above his contemporaries. Which is not wrong, necessarily. Just last weekend, I was watching the Red Zone channel, and heard two separate announcers describe quarterbacks escaping a determined pass rush as being Houdini-like, this within the space of five minutes. Posnanski produces several similar examples, most of which explicate the fact that TV broadcasters have a limited well of metaphor to draw from than anything else. I don’t think you can question the general thesis, but I seriously doubt that Houdini’s legacy is quite as pervasive as Posnanski makes it out to be. He states, in one passage, that you simply can’t be ambivalent about Houdini. I am entirely pleased to be ambivalent about him, as I am about most things (except for Dr. Pepper, not putting beans in chili, and the perfidy of the New York Yankees).

    The point I am trying to make here is this: If you are obsessed with Houdini, and you spend a long time talking to people who are, it is quite possible --- probable, even --- that you are going to come to the conclusion that Houdini’s legacy is a lot more widespread than perhaps it actually is.

    THE LIFE AND AFTERLIFE OF HARRY HOUDINI does two things very effectively. First, it lets Posnanski tell Houdini stories, which usually turn out to be interesting or fun. (This is one case where I wished I’d listened to the audiobook instead.) Posnanski takes a great deal of glee in relating the best stories --- and debunking the worst ones --- and his excitement is infectious. Secondly, he lets his interview subjects dunk on Houdini from time to time --- pointing out that he wasn’t a great card or technical magician. (I do wish Posnanski had gotten to interview the late Ricky Jay, who had been critical of Houdini as well.)

    As for the rest of the book, while it’s technically fine, it doesn’t quite capture the imagination. The epigram at the beginning is from Patrick Culliton, an actor turned Houdini obsessive, and Posnanski describes his struggles getting to talk to him or obtaining a copy of his detailed (and rare) Houdini biography. And then, at the end, he gets to meet Culliton --- and the most impactful story that he has to tell is about a Florida dinner theater experience.

    If you’re even vaguely interested in Houdini, Posnanski’s book is a great deal of fun and does a lot to separate the myths from the facts. But if you’re primarily interested in a biography qua biography, the long divergent stretches where the author talks to Houdini obsessives will either strike you as engaging, in which case you’re fine, or annoying bordering on grating, in which case you’re probably in the market for a different Houdini biography.

    Reviewed by Curtis Edmonds


  10. Angus McKeogh Angus McKeogh says:

    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.


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10 thoughts on “The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini

  1. Kemper Kemper says:

    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 a lot about various Houdini legends while comparing them to reality. However, that’s not the main point of this book. Instead of trying to figure out who Houdini was and how he accomplished what he did, the book is more interested in examining how Houdini continues to fascinate and inspire people to this day. Considering that this was a man who whose very name became synonymous with amazing escapes of any kind, that’s an interesting topic.

    Here’s the odd thing for me. I don't really care about magic, and I'm not even that interested in Houdini although he certainly led a memorable life. So why did I read this? Because I am a big fan of Joe Posnanski.

    Posnanski is a sportswriter who was an award winning columnist in Kansas City for many years, and if I had a nickel for every story I read that he wrote about a horrible Royals teams during that time I’d be richer than Bill Gates. I met him once, and he signed a copy of his wonderful book about Buck O’Neil, The Soul of Baseball. I’ve listened to the podcast he does with TV producer Michael Schur and I have even ordered the dish named after him, Posnanski Chicken Spiedini, at a restaurant called Governor Stumpy’s on more a few occasions. (Not only is it really good, but you get a huge portion that gives you great take home leftovers for another meal.)

    The fascinating thing about Posnanski to me is that he isn’t your typical 21st century hot-take sports guy. By modern standards his sports writing could almost be called gentle, and he always seems to be looking for the bright side without seeming naive. He is almost effortlessly funny, too. The thing that really always stood out was that Joe had a knack for finding awe inspiring moments in places that might be overlooked. I always had the feeling that part of the reason he was a sports fan is that it’s a thing where somebody doing something unbelievable is always just a play away.

    However, Joe left Kansas City years ago, and while he’s had several high profile sports writing jobs since, I’ve missed getting a dose of that that kind of optimism a few times a week when I cracked open a open a copy of the Star. Truth be told, I’ve drifted away from watching sports at all in recent years so I don’t seek out Joe’s writing like I used to. I did get a nice reminder of it when a story he wrote about taking his daughter to see Hamilton went viral that made Lin-Manuel Miranda cry.

    So even though I’ve got little interest in magicians, I picked this up just to read some Joe Posnanski. And he delivers by giving us a story about wonder. Houdini might have been a bully, a liar, a jerk, and a shameless self-promoter, but as repeatedly gets pointed out, he was the ultimate showman with a relentless drive. The legend of Houdini has inspired countless other magicians and escape artists, and those are the stories that Posnanski is really telling us here. He wants to figure out why a flawed man whose main talent was putting himself in rigged situations to escape from has managed to flourish in the public imagination for decades after his death.

    To try and answer that Joe talks to everybody from David Copperfield to a reclusive former actor who wrote an incredibly detailed book about Houdini that is nearly impossible to find. Along the way we hear about magic acts, tricks of the escape artist trade, debates about Houdini’s actual skill, and a variety of other topics that all are oriented around trying to puzzle out the appeal of the man. In the end I did learn a lot about Houdini, and it also gave me a lot to think about in terms of what creates legendary fame and how one person's image can inspire countless people long after they're gone.

    If you’re thinking about reading it, and you’re not sure if it’s your cup of tea, here’s a link to the column Posnanski wrote about taking his daughter to see Hamilton . If you enjoy that, there’s a good chance you’ll like this book.

  2. Margo Margo says:

    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 acknowledgements!) who barked at all those deliveries of magic books on our front porch. So he may be the most happy this book is finished. This new Houdini book takes a sweeping yet modern angle on returning to an age where wonder and great escapes were paramount. Westley hopes you get the book on YOUR front doorstep soon!

  3. Jill Hutchinson Jill Hutchinson says:

    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 that have yet to be successfully explained, although theories abound (some of which are included in this book).

    This isn't exactly a biography of Houdini but rather a tour through his career and conversations with modern day popular magicians regarding their attitudes of why Houdini's popularity has continued 100+ plus years after his death. There are current groups/clubs that study his work and collectors (such as the great David Copperfield) who search the world for Houdini memorabilia. The author, also a Houdini fanatic, separates the fact from myth (and there are many myths) through his research and collaboration with Houdini experts.

    Even if you are not particularly a fan of magicians, this book will hold your attention throughout and leave you wondering how Houdini escaped the Mirror Handcuffs which is one of his unexplained tricks. Very well done and very interesting.

  4. Porter Broyles Porter Broyles says:

    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. Posnanski ties the key events and acts in Houdini's life with other magicians.

    Posnanski does not argue that Houdini was a great magician---quite contrary---he accepts the position that he was average at best (he even discusses the premise that Houdini wasn't even a magician). Nevertheless, he argues that Houdini was the most influential and best-known.

    Therein lies the beauty of this book. Posnanski introduces the lay reader to a number of significant magicians---most of whom the magic community knows, but may have been forgotten by non-magicians.

    This is exemplified when he talks about Epic Rap Battle of History--- David Copperfield
    vs Harry Houdini. Yes, there was a chapter dedicated to the rap battle, which tells you the light hearted manner in which the book was written! The key take away here was that while Copperfield was the greatest and best known magician of his generation and is still performing more people know the name Houdini than Copperfield.

    This is a fun very quick read. I just wish it had a different title that was more descriptive of the contents.

  5. Erin Zzona Erin Zzona says:

    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.💋
    XOX
    ~EZ

  6. LynnDee (LynnDee& LynnDee (LynnDee& says:

    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.

  7. Ann-Marie Ann-Marie says:

    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.

  8. Al Al says:

    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 some of the world's biggest Houdini experts, including David Copperfield. Never staying on one topic for too long (and I mean that in a good way), it moves quickly and doesn't drag like biographies sometimes can.

    There is a lot of subjects touched upon. Why is Houdini so great? Experts will tell you he's at best an average magician.

    Certainly myth helps Houdini. Much of what people believe about Houdini comes from those myths. Posnanski explores some of the history and stories that make him enduring, and what is true and what isn't.. This is not a biography, per se. However, I think it could definitely fill those needs for most. Nor is it one-sided, it covers all aspects of the Man.

    I am still awestruck about the Man. Posnanski talks about magic and why it works (not in a physical sense, but in a transcendent sense)- how Houdini could paint an image in our mind, why magicians of today must do certain things to succeed and what drives them.

    I like the parts too where Posnanski and other experts try to figure out the unsolvable mysteries of Houdini. Again, why it works, is because Posnanski touches on so many things, and shares the most interesting elements.

    This is a book I will read and read again, and is a terrific addition to a Houdini shelf. It is interesting that Posnanski in the afterword, said he was going to write about Babe Ruth (Jane Leavy and others have got there first), but his main goal was to write about Wonder.

    He certainly succeeded.


    This is a really fun book



  9. Bookreporter.com Biography & Memoir Bookreporter.com Biography & Memoir says:

    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 this is due to the passage of time. Author Joe Posnanski, who has written an admirable and admiring biography of Negro League great Buck O’Neil (and a disastrously unlucky biography of Penn State coach Joe Paterno, which was penned as the Sandusky scandal was unfolding), understands this; it’s much easier to write a biography when you can talk to and interview the subject, and those who knew the subject. But Houdini died in 1926, over 90 years ago, and everyone who knew him has since passed away. That leaves the biographer with secondary sources. Still, there are Houdini biographies that cover nearly every facet of his life and are tailored to almost every individual taste.

    Where the smart-aleck reviewer asks, “Why, then, does the world need another Houdini biography?” the intrepid author has hit on a solution. THE LIFE AND AFTERLIFE OF HARRY HOUDINI is a biography, after a fashion, although a sketchy one. (Posnanski, faced with the period of Houdini’s life when he invested a good deal of time debunking spiritualism, literally says that he’s not interested and moves on to the next thing.) But the focus of the book is not so much on Houdini himself --- or even on the Houdini mythos, which is difficult enough to separate from reality --- but on the small group of people who are, in the 21st century, obsessed with Houdini.

    Everybody needs a hobby. It is perfectly okay for someone to be interested in Houdini, and if that rises to the point of obsession, who am I to judge? I do not have an obsessive nature myself --- certainly not when it comes to collecting things. The people who Posnanski interviews and profiles in this book have that nature, and collect things, and a good part of the book is the author strolling through their collections. (The most comprehensive of these is that of cheesy TV magician David Copperfield, who has a literal warehouse of stuff related to Houdini specifically and magic in general.)

    The central thesis of THE LIFE AND AFTERLIFE OF HARRY HOUDINI is that Houdini has had an outsize effect on current American society far and above his contemporaries. Which is not wrong, necessarily. Just last weekend, I was watching the Red Zone channel, and heard two separate announcers describe quarterbacks escaping a determined pass rush as being Houdini-like, this within the space of five minutes. Posnanski produces several similar examples, most of which explicate the fact that TV broadcasters have a limited well of metaphor to draw from than anything else. I don’t think you can question the general thesis, but I seriously doubt that Houdini’s legacy is quite as pervasive as Posnanski makes it out to be. He states, in one passage, that you simply can’t be ambivalent about Houdini. I am entirely pleased to be ambivalent about him, as I am about most things (except for Dr. Pepper, not putting beans in chili, and the perfidy of the New York Yankees).

    The point I am trying to make here is this: If you are obsessed with Houdini, and you spend a long time talking to people who are, it is quite possible --- probable, even --- that you are going to come to the conclusion that Houdini’s legacy is a lot more widespread than perhaps it actually is.

    THE LIFE AND AFTERLIFE OF HARRY HOUDINI does two things very effectively. First, it lets Posnanski tell Houdini stories, which usually turn out to be interesting or fun. (This is one case where I wished I’d listened to the audiobook instead.) Posnanski takes a great deal of glee in relating the best stories --- and debunking the worst ones --- and his excitement is infectious. Secondly, he lets his interview subjects dunk on Houdini from time to time --- pointing out that he wasn’t a great card or technical magician. (I do wish Posnanski had gotten to interview the late Ricky Jay, who had been critical of Houdini as well.)

    As for the rest of the book, while it’s technically fine, it doesn’t quite capture the imagination. The epigram at the beginning is from Patrick Culliton, an actor turned Houdini obsessive, and Posnanski describes his struggles getting to talk to him or obtaining a copy of his detailed (and rare) Houdini biography. And then, at the end, he gets to meet Culliton --- and the most impactful story that he has to tell is about a Florida dinner theater experience.

    If you’re even vaguely interested in Houdini, Posnanski’s book is a great deal of fun and does a lot to separate the myths from the facts. But if you’re primarily interested in a biography qua biography, the long divergent stretches where the author talks to Houdini obsessives will either strike you as engaging, in which case you’re fine, or annoying bordering on grating, in which case you’re probably in the market for a different Houdini biography.

    Reviewed by Curtis Edmonds

  10. Angus McKeogh Angus McKeogh says:

    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.

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