Escape!: The Story of the Great Houdini

by Sid Fleischman

Hardcover, 2006



Local notes

921 HOU





Greenwillow Books (2006), 210 pages. Purchased in 2011. $18.99.


A biography of the magician, ghost chaser, aviator, and king of escape artists whose amazing feats are remembered long after his death in 1926. Profiling his early years, personal life, and great accomplishments in show business, the story of the famous magician, Harry Houdini, comes to life through a review of his greatest tricks and most amazing feats, complete with index, photos, and author's notes.


Boston Globe–Horn Book Award (Honor — Nonfiction — 2007)
Young Hoosier Book Award (Nominee — Middle Grade — 2009)
Sydney Taylor Book Award (Mass Import -- Pending Differentiation)
Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Award (Nominee — Grades 6-8 — 2010)

Original language


Physical description

210 p.; 7 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member dee_kohler
Biography of the great Houdini, better than others I've read, portrays Houdini as the real man, ego-centric, an early manipulator of his own legend. Nice old time photos, some language might be hard for kids, but doesn't detract from story.
LibraryThing member sckimmel
Told with a heaping dose of skepticism, the story of Houdini's life emerges as the tale of a self-made man with a tremendous ego and a penchant for stretching the truth. Several long-standing myths are dispelled here.
LibraryThing member hezann73
This is exactly what I want a biography on Harry Houdini to be like! It's entertaining, but informative and leaves you wanting more.
LibraryThing member STBA
Full of colorful language, this biography of Houdini is infused with the showman’s Jewish side, recalling his birth as Ehrich
Weiss to an impoverished but scholarly rabbi in a Budapest ghetto, his self-invention and brashness as an immigrant, the
effects of anti-Semitism, and his lifelong love of
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LibraryThing member gkuhns
This book is written by a former magician, which both hurts and helps it. The magician's perspective adds layers of meaning, but the unspoken magician code means that Houdini's tricks are not revealed. No matter. Meticulous research coupled with linguistic flair and fascinating artifacts provide an
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entertaining read, even for a biography. This book is intended for a middle school audience, however, so though the subject matter may entice younger audiences, librarians and educators should save it for grades 6 and above.
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LibraryThing member ekaufman
I'm not a big fan of non-fiction as it is, but I found this book to be a slow read. The vocabulary used is above that of your average middle schooler, and I even found myself rereading passages. The way the book was written was unique in that it follows the author as he travels around researching
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Houdini. I did learn some interesting facts about Houdini from lies about where he was born, running away from home, and succumbing to death from a burst appendix. The pictures were helpful and interesting.
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LibraryThing member Emily.Small
This great biography takes the reader from the beginning to end of Houdini's life. It's large size makes it easy for reader, and pictures are both ones of Houdini and diagrams of his tricks.
LibraryThing member mpresti
Ages 9 and up. You can be sure to expect an entertaining read from Sid Fleischman (1920-2010). A few of his other children's books were favorites of mine when I was young (The Whipping Boy, Jim Ugly). This book, however, is the first I have read of his that is wholly non-fiction. He draws from his
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experience as an amateur magician, and his real life friendship with Bess Houdini (Houdini's widow), to bring the odds-and-ends of Houdini's mysterious life into focus. Houdini is presented, throughout the book, as a struggling artist bent on proving to the world that it is possible to break free from everyday constraints (like poverty, and obscurantism). Fleischman claims to have personally discovered the secrets to all of his tricks, and to have far-reaching insights into his life. While all of these secrets are not divulged to the reader, and are rather reserved for the brotherhood of magicians, Fleischman gives some pretty clear hints in the direction of explaining them (i.e. Houdini's lock picking skills, his knack for creating tall tales, etc.)

What lies beneath this biographical narrative is a psychological portrait of the magician and his audience. Fleischman questions why audiences would crave to see these magical spectacles, and why Houdini would want to carve a legend out of his public image. He compares Houdini to Pygmalion trapped in an obsessive-narcissistic quest to mythologize himself, driven on by his own magnanimous egotism. In this conviction, he has been informed by Bernard C. Meyer's study of Houdini: Houdini, a Mind in Chains.

Fleischman goes on to portray the hypocritical stance of Houdini towards his namesake Robert-Houdin. Later, this hypocritical attitude is recast in a virtuous light, when Houdini takes a stance against Spiritualist hoaxes. Houdini is actually portrayed as a rational egotist. There is nothing mysterious about him or his magic tricks. If there was ever an escape that Houdini performed that was perceived as magic, it is because Houdini lied in his biography or others fabricated myths about him. Fleischman would probably agree with the commonplace view that Houdini was a great showman, but not a very great magician (at least not as great as he wanted to be). This book is a little more than a biography, though, because Fleischman admits in the introduction to embellishing it with a little of his own dialogue and imaginings, interspersed with the story of his own admiration of Houdini and search for his true life's story.

Other interesting facts I discovered in this book that I did not know before: Apparently Houdini named Buster Keaton "Buster", Houdini had lied in his biography about the ice-cover and near escape from death when he jumped off the Belle Isle Bridge, he also frequently lied in his biography about how much money he gambled with, he had most of his exposes ghostwritten, and he was the first to fly solo in Australia. Fleischman is correct that most of us read about the Belle Isle Bridge catastrophe in children's books and imagined what we would do if we were ever trapped under a sheet of ice. We never stopped to consider for a moment that Houdini was pulling the wool over our eyes to draw larger audiences to his shows.
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LibraryThing member JRobinW
Fleischman has written a thorough story of Houdini. I like that he showed the human side of Houdini (flaws and all) as well as his greatness.
LibraryThing member classyhomemaker
While this easy to follow biography did not esteem Houdini in my eyes in the least, the author, Sid Fleischman, is superb, bumping up the rating from three stars to four. I easily moved through this book in just a few hours today, despite many distractions and interruptions. The only thing that
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bugged me about the author was his repeated use of the word, fakir. Is he misspelling "faker"? Is he repeatedly comparing the Jewish American Houdini or his rivals to Muslim or Hindu beggars? It's a weird choice of a word---especially when used over and over.

I think it's good to read biographies of legendary people because it helps us see them in an ordinary light. Houdini sure had his share of undesirable character traits. If Fleischman's research is to be believed, he was a very dishonest person---to the point of embellishing even his own journal to boost his ego! Makes me curious about his relationship with his wife---was she on to him and just loyal or was she ignorant and often mercilessly duped by him?

I resisted the urge to look up most of his tricks as I may someday find myself at a similar show and don't want to be let down knowing all the secrets. However, I just had to look up the disappearing elephant trick and found it to be simple but genius! Other than Houdini's general lack of integrity, I was also seriously disgusted by the story of the sea monster trick. It was hideous physically as well as ethically. Houdini really sounds like a creep.
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½ (64 ratings; 3.7)
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