Fascinating, sometimes thrilling, reading.



A screenwriter explores the little-discussed rivalry between master illusionist Harry Houdini and a much-publicized Boston spirit medium named Margery Crandon.

Houdini was considered the greatest escape artist of the early 20th century, but by the 1920s, he turned his energies to unmasking spiritist frauds who claimed to have contact with the dead. Set against a backdrop of Jazz Age excess and anxiety, Jaher, in his first book, tells the story of Houdini’s epic confrontation with a spiritist whose popularity rivaled his own. World War I and the Spanish influenza laid waste to a generation of young men in Europe and left the world “teetering on the brink of a new dark age.” Observers like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who eventually became an ardent advocate of spiritualism (and friendly nemesis to Houdini), believed that the loss of so many loved ones would turn bereaved families seeking comfort “toward spirit communion.” While séances became all the rage on both sides of the Atlantic and Conan Doyle lectured on the “New Revelation,” reputable scientists began to explore the paranormal to determine the true nature of psychic phenomena. One particular group associated with Scientific American magazine put together a contest that would award $5,000 to anyone able to successfully prove his or her abilities. Among the judges was Houdini, whose career as a magician made him a formidable spiritist debunker. All but one medium tested by this group—the genteel Crandon—were conclusively demonstrated to be frauds. Through a combination of feminine seduction and illusionist skill that even Houdini admired, Crandon became the one psychic to almost win the respect of the scientific community and outshine Houdini as an entertainer. Jaher’s narrative style is as engaging as his character portraits are colorful. Together, they bring a bygone age and its defining spiritual obsessions roaring to life.

Fascinating, sometimes thrilling, reading.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-307-45106-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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