new Houdini biographies review in WSJ

Addresses new and interesting links to other sites (not listed on the Genii website) that merit attention.
Jim Martin
Posts: 527
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: St. Louis

new Houdini biographies review in WSJ

Postby Jim Martin » March 14th, 2020, 11:24 am

Robert Wilson, author of “Barnum: An American Life” reviews two new Houdini bios.

Elusive American
By Adam Begley
Yale, 216 pages, $26

The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini
By Joe Posnanski
Avid Reader, 316 pages, $28

https://www.wsj.com/articles/two-new-lives-of-harry-houdini-11584113644?shareToken=st4400713b528b4ede825d54b0606463be
Jim Martin
St. Louis MO

User avatar
erdnasephile
Posts: 4313
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm

Re: new Houdini biographies review in WSJ

Postby erdnasephile » March 14th, 2020, 3:15 pm

Joe Pos was a local sportswriter before he hit the big time. He is a very talented wordsmith and also a big magic fan. I saw his Houdini book in 1/2 price books and flipped through. It looked like a good read, but I didn't buy it because I felt guilty about not finishing Kalush's Houdini book yet.

User avatar
Richard Kaufman
Posts: 25577
Joined: July 18th, 2001, 12:00 pm
Favorite Magician: Theodore DeLand
Location: Washington DC
Contact:

Re: new Houdini biographies review in WSJ

Postby Richard Kaufman » March 14th, 2020, 4:16 pm

Posnaski's book is full of nonsense regarding my friend (and real Houdini expert) Pat Culliton. I would avoid it.
Subscribe today to Genii Magazine

User avatar
erdnasephile
Posts: 4313
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm

Re: new Houdini biographies review in WSJ

Postby erdnasephile » March 14th, 2020, 4:19 pm

Wow--that's disappointing to hear. I certainly will defer to the experts on this one.

Jim Martin
Posts: 527
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: St. Louis

Re: new Houdini biographies review in WSJ

Postby Jim Martin » March 14th, 2020, 8:02 pm

Richard Kaufman wrote:Posnaski's book is full of nonsense regarding my friend (and real Houdini expert) Pat Culliton. I would avoid it.

Agreed.
Of the two, Begley was given a better review.
The reviewer was less than enthusiastic about Posnanski's effort.
"Mr. Posnanski’s solution to the problem of having 500 predecessors is less satisfactory.
His is a book about the writing of a book about Houdini.
We tag along as he contacts experts on the great man and the history of magic,
and people whose lives have been shaped by their helpless infatuation with him."
Jim Martin

St. Louis MO

performer
Posts: 3510
Joined: August 7th, 2015, 10:35 pm

Re: new Houdini biographies review in WSJ

Postby performer » March 14th, 2020, 9:17 pm

The famous escapologist Murray used to get highly irritated with all the biographies about Houdini. He used to complain to me "All these people writing about Houdini didn't even know Houdini!" He felt that disqualified them from writing about him.

There was actually a rather inadequate biography about Murray by Val Andrews. However to be fair to poor old Val I did hear from Bobby Bernard that trying to get information from Murray was like pulling teeth. In my own memoirs I did write a little bit about the old rogue. He actually coined the word "escapology" or at least he said he did! Which probably means he didn't!

The very name of Houdini was like a red rag to a bull where Murray was concerned. He did concede that he got his ambition to be an escape artist when he was ten years old after seeing Houdini perform. I smirked at him, "In that case Houdini must have impressed you" but he snorted back, "Anybody can impress you when you are ten years old!"

He used to get annoyed when the newspapers would describe him as "The Second Houdini" That made him mad as hell and he would spit out, "I am not Houdini the Second----I am Murray the First!"

User avatar
Richard Kaufman
Posts: 25577
Joined: July 18th, 2001, 12:00 pm
Favorite Magician: Theodore DeLand
Location: Washington DC
Contact:

Re: new Houdini biographies review in WSJ

Postby Richard Kaufman » March 14th, 2020, 9:27 pm

Mark, most of the great biographies in literature were written by people who never met their subjects. And don't argue with me about it.
Subscribe today to Genii Magazine

User avatar
Zig Zagger
Posts: 402
Joined: March 20th, 2008, 6:59 pm
Favorite Magician: Aldo Colombini
Location: Germany
Contact:

Re: new Houdini biographies review in WSJ

Postby Zig Zagger » March 15th, 2020, 7:02 am

Richard Kaufman wrote:Posnaski's book is full of nonsense regarding my friend (and real Houdini expert) Pat Culliton. I would avoid it.

Hm, both lamentable and interesting to hear that. Because overall, I have enjoyed reading the book recently. I'm not a Houdini scholar, but I've read several biographies on him over the years. And there are quite a few things I like about Posnanski's particular approach:

First, he's trying hard not to rehash all the lore, but to tell the myths from the facts. For that, he sets himself on an enthusiastic journey to talk to a lot of knowledgeable magicians, both scholars and performers, some of them huge Houdini fanboys, others not so much. So, secondly, we get to learn interesting insights and opinions from luminaries like Jim Steinmeyer, Mike Caveney, John Cox, David Copperfield and others. Third, the book is also, as the title promises, about the afterlife of Houdini. What makes him stand out still today? Fourth, Posnanski delivers a swift read and has a knack for catchy phrases and summaries that stick (like "Houdini never surrendered. That was what made him Houdini." or "Death, ironically, gave Houdini a second life."). He also has a great way of foreshadowing and leading you with hooks straight into the next chapter, which made me digest the book in only two sessions.

In terms of structure and dramatization, Posnanski decided to let us readers accompany him step by step on his quest. That's why the attempts to contact Houdini expert Patrick Culliton (first futile, finally successful) are a recurrent theme and supposed to build some suspense. I agree that the book could have been done without this dramatization. And I found that Mr Culliton (whom I don't know anything else about) comes across as a very strange and pitiable person. If this portrayal happens to be unfair and overdramatized, Mr Posnanski should be reprehended for that. Apart from this quibble, which I cannot judge, I recommend this book as a refreshing and enlightening addition to the bulk of "regular" Houdini biographies.
Tricks, tips, news, interviews, musings and fun stuff: Have a look at our English-German magic blog! http://www.zzzauber.com
Advancing the art in magic one post at a time (yeah, right!)

User avatar
Richard Kaufman
Posts: 25577
Joined: July 18th, 2001, 12:00 pm
Favorite Magician: Theodore DeLand
Location: Washington DC
Contact:

Re: new Houdini biographies review in WSJ

Postby Richard Kaufman » March 15th, 2020, 11:06 am

Zig Zagger wrote:
Richard Kaufman wrote:Posnaski's book is full of nonsense regarding my friend (and real Houdini expert) Pat Culliton. I would avoid it.

That's why the attempts to contact Houdini expert Patrick Culliton (first futile, finally successful) are a recurrent theme and supposed to build some suspense. I agree that the book could have been done without this dramatization. And I found that Mr Culliton (whom I don't know anything else about) comes across as a very strange and pitiable person.


Now you understand the problem. Patrick is not remotely strange nor pitiful. What Posnaski wrote about Pat is not true. It is a willful distortion, which gives one little confidence in anything else he writes.
Subscribe today to Genii Magazine

User avatar
Zig Zagger
Posts: 402
Joined: March 20th, 2008, 6:59 pm
Favorite Magician: Aldo Colombini
Location: Germany
Contact:

Re: new Houdini biographies review in WSJ

Postby Zig Zagger » March 16th, 2020, 3:46 pm

Right. Now it would be interesting to learn, in addition, from Messieurs Steinmeyer, Caveney, etc. if they also feel misrepresented or misquoted in the book.
Tricks, tips, news, interviews, musings and fun stuff: Have a look at our English-German magic blog! http://www.zzzauber.com
Advancing the art in magic one post at a time (yeah, right!)

AZK
Posts: 1
Joined: March 17th, 2020, 9:30 am
Favorite Magician: DelGaudio

Re: new Houdini biographies review in WSJ

Postby AZK » March 17th, 2020, 9:20 pm

Here's another review of the Begley book which I wrote for a local weekly newspaper for which Begley used to write. He often visits this area, where his family has a house, which is what occasioned the review.
https://www.easthamptonstar.com/books/2 ... ape-artist


Return to “Link Watch”