The real Harry Houdini fails to emerge from behind the smoke and mirrors he created for himself in Joe Posnanski’s erratic and sensationalist biography
The Life And Afterlife Of Harry Houdini
Joe Posnanski S&S £20
What a bore Harry Houdini must have been. And what a narcissist. Ninety-three years on from his death in 1926, Houdini reads like a thoroughly modern celebrity.
Shameless in his desire for fame and relentless in his pursuit of it, he gave himself a year to make it big in the world of magic or else, he declared to his wife, ‘I will give it up and get some sort of steady work’.
What a bore Harry Houdini must have been. And what a narcissist. 93 years on from his death in 1926, Houdini reads like a thoroughly modern celebrity. Above in The Grim Game in 1919
There was no risk of that – his contemporary Dai Vernon said that ‘if he had been a butcher, a cobbler, an architect, or a lawyer, he would have been known all over the world. He was obsessed with one thing: to make his name a household word’.
How this self-promoter would have thrived today. By 1899, aged 25, he was earning $400 a week, more than $6 million a year by today’s standards. By 1922, four years before he died, Houdini was famous beyond his wildest dreams (and they were wild). Yet how unpleasant he seems, too.
Posnanski paints Houdini – real name Ehrich Weiss – as a divisive and complicated figure who was obsessed with his own legend; a habitual liar who squared up to everyone who challenged him.
Yes Joe Posnanski – a New York Times best-selling author – fails to reveal anything new about the great escapologist’s life and character in this undercooked biography
Why? I wish I could tell you. In this erratic, undercooked book, Posnanski, an American sports journalist and New York Times best-selling author, attempts to examine Houdini’s legacy by combining biography with travelogue and interviews with magicians today, which add the thinnest of insights.
There is more sensationalism than substance in this account. By the end, the real Houdini remains just as elusive as he was at the start, hidden behind the smoke and mirrors that the great escapologist created for himself.