Gr 5-9-A concise and highly readable biography. The chronological narrative progresses from 1874 to 1926 in a well-organized and easy-to-follow manner. Descriptions of events and personalities provide an excellent backdrop as well as a historical context. Initially known as a masterful magician, Houdini's career really took off when he began his famous acts as an escape artist. As his fame grew, so did the seemingly impossible challenges he imposed upon himself. Diving underwater in shackles, being buried alive, the Chinese Water Torture Cell, walking through brick walls, and making an elephant disappear are just a few of the stunts that he presented to the world. The pace of the book moves along at an exciting clip, while each chapter unveils a new and unthinkable episode in the showman's life. Two eight-page inserts of photographs and reproductions help to bring the figures to life. Although there is a bibliography, Cox does not use footnotes to substantiate the dialogue and feelings attributed to various individuals. Nonetheless, readers will revel in Houdini's escapades and be enthralled by the mythical stature that has made his name a household word.-Elizabeth Fernandez, Brunswick Middle School, Greenwich, CT Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Among the outpouring of new releases and reprints on the life of Houdini comes Cox's (African American Teachers, not reviewed, etc.) biography with only Houdini's piercing eyes, now a symbol of the man still known as the world's greatest magician, gracing the cover. Born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest, Hungary, in 1874, Houdini and his family moved to the US in 1876. He grew up in poverty, until he bought a secondhand copy of the memoirs of Robert-Houdin, a famous magician of his time, and the rest, as the saying goes, was history. Cox reveals a man who, obsessed with breaking away from poverty and becoming famous, literally renamed himself and maintained a personal façade as illusive as his magic acts. Houdini's obsessive personality carried over into his relationships, particularly with his mother, and because he was uneducated, it led him to develop an extensive library of magic books, letters, and other realia. Later in life, it served him to discredit fake mediums, eventually leading up to testimony before Congress. And of course it was his obsessive nature that drove him to dream up new acts, train athletically, and perform death-defying stunts, all to the detriment of his health. What will really keep readers turning the pages are Cox's descriptions of Houdini's legendary feats, including the Metamorphosis, Milk Can Escape, and the Vanishing Elephant, and his genius as an escape artist. Cox sparks additional interest through depictions of the political sentiments of the time, such as the rampant discrimination the Jewish Houdini experienced throughout pre-WWI Europe. Gleaning information from Houdini's journals (perhaps Houdini's only truthful statements about himself) andprimary sources from the time period, Cox presents a well-researched and fascinating account of a man whose life continues to mystify us. (b&w photographs, bibliography, index) (Biography. 11-15)