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.
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 learning.
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.