Spellbinder: The Life of Harry Houdini

by Tom Lalicki

The son of a poor rabbi who moved his young family from Budapest to Appleton, Wisconsin,... read more

The son of a poor rabbi who moved his young family from Budapest to Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1878, Ehrich Weiss reinvented himself at age 18 as Harry Houdini. He began traveling the vaudeville circuit and soon established himself as an escape artist who attempted increasingly daring feats, using handcuffs, strait jackets, packing cases, milk cans filled with water and, most famously, the Chinese Water‑Torture Cell. Still considered the greatest magician of modern times, Houdini also mastered the art of publicity and self‑promotion. International mass media was just developing, and Houdini’s fame spread rapidly throughout the world. He toured Europe, challenging local police units to lock him in their strongest prisons, and repeatedly made news by escaping within minutes. In the latter part of his life, Houdini exposed mediums as frauds through widely publicized debates with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, an avid Spiritualist, and Mina Crandon, the best known psychic of the time. Houdini was also an exceptionally generous man, known to pay for the funerals of down‑and‑out magicians. He offered free public performances to working‑class folks, to hospitalized children, and to U.S. soldiers during World War I. This lively, well‑researched biography, copiously illustrated with archival photographs, shows Houdini not only as a master of illusion, but as a gentle, scholarly man devoted to his family and his craft. (Ages 8‑14)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2001

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