Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini
In this fresh, witty biography of the most famous bamboozler since Merlin, Sid Fleischman, a former professional magician, enriches his warm homage with insider information and unmaskings. Did Houdini really pick the jailhouse lock to let a fellow circus performer escape? Were his secrets really buried with him? Was he a bum magician, as some rivals claimed? How did he manage to be born in two cities, in two countries, on two continents at the same instant?
Here are the stories of how a knockabout kid named Ehrich Weiss, the son of an impoverished rabbi, presto-changoed himself into the legendary Harry Houdini. Here, too, are rare photographs never before seen by the general reader!
I dont know that anyone else could have written this book. Fleischmans connection to the prestidigitation arts gives him an insiders knowledge and love of the craft. He also personally knew Bess Houdini, Harrys widow, and so had access to information and photographs that others wouldnt have had. But the thing that really stands out in the book is his love of the art and the man.
The book covers Houdinis earliest years at home and follows him as he sets off at a very young age to get a job and help support his family. The middle years, when things were a struggle and Houdini used his wits, talent (both for magic and self-promotion), and determination to get ahead are the most interesting, though the later years when Houdini was famous but still very, very active are also riveting.
I really appreciated that Fleischman didnt gloss over any of the details of Harrys life. He gives us some of the embarrassing details (like how Harry would airbrush other people out of photographs to highlight himself) and intimate details that really makes the story come to life. He also does NOT give away any of the magic secrets that Houdini used, instead encouraging readers to begin their own exploration of magic with a list of books for further reading.
I only knew the basic facts about Houdini before reading this book (its a CYBILS nominee in the non-fiction category), but now I feel like I knew the man and, through his writing, a bit of Sid Fleischman as well. Few biographies are this engaging, entertaining, and informative and I encourage readers of all ages (especially those 10 and up) to pick this book up and get lost in the magic. Very highly recommended.