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Spellbinder: The Life of Harry Houdini

by Tom Lalicki

Published by Holiday House, 2000
88 pages
ISBN: 0-8234-1499-X

Ages 8 - 14

The son of a poor rabbi who had moved his young family from Budapest to Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1878, Ehrich Weiss first reinvented himself in 1892 at age 18 as Harry Houdini and began traveling the vaudeville circuit as a magician, song-and-dance man, and Projea, the Wild Man. He 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 into which he was suspended upside-down. Still considered the greatest magician of modern times, Houdini also mastered the art of publicity and self-promotion in an era when mass media was just developing on an international level, and his fame spread rapidly throughout the world. He toured Europe, for example, challenging local police units to lock him up in their strongest prisons, and he continually made news by escaping within minutes. In the latter part of his life, he was deeply involved in exposing 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. But he was also an exceptionally generous man who was known to pay for funerals of down-and-out magicians, and who frequently offered free public performances to working-class folks who couldn't afford to attend his stage shows, to children in hospitals, and to U.S. soldiers serving in 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 who was devoted to his family and to his craft, always driven by his desire to be the first and the best at everything he tried. And, more often than not, he was. CCBC categories: Biography and Autobiography. (KTH; July 31) 2000 Cooperative Children's Book Center

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