Entertaining and brimming with wonder.

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THE LIFE AND AFTERLIFE OF HARRY HOUDINI

Unlocking the doors to the legendary performer’s world of magic.

Noting that there are more than 500 books about Ehrich Weiss, aka Harry Houdini (1874-1926), MLB.com national columnist Posnanski (The Secret of Golf: The Story of Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, 2016, etc.) still delivers a jaunty and infectious biography of the famous magician and his impact on magic and popular culture. The author relates his discussions with magicians who have emulated or criticized Houdini’s magic as well as the “truest believer[s]” who have studied and written about him for years. As a young boy, writes Posnanski, “locks spoke to Houdini, and Houdini understood.” Though he said he was born in Appleton, Wisconsin, he was actually born in Budapest. This lie, discovered Posnanski, is a key to understanding how Houdini achieved his mythic status. “[Houdini] believed that magic was about the performer more than the performance,” writes the author, “and the bigger, gaudier, more dangerous, more thrilling, the better.” Posnanski’s Houdini is a consummate liar and a genius at self-promotion. He hired ghost writer H.P Lovecraft to “tell exaggerated tales about him or write short stories under the Houdini name” and planted self-aggrandizing stories about himself in the local newspapers of the towns where he performed. Posnanski is excellent at describing Houdini’s greatest escapes, from the famous Mirror Cuffs to straitjackets. The author chronicles his visit to David Copperfield’s private museum; the Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he viewed the rare Houdini film, The Grim Game; and the Academy of Magical Arts’ exclusive Magic Castle, where he finally got to meet Patrick Culliton, author of the rare and coveted Houdini: The Key. Houdini was good as a magician, Posnanski learns—he created the popular needles-in- the-mouth trick and made an elephant disappear—but he was, above all, a remarkable performer. Spoiler alert: The author does not reveal any Houdini secrets.

Entertaining and brimming with wonder.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3723-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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

NIGHT

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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