Big Friday sale

Notes to Houdini!!! by Ken Silverman

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii December, 1996)


Yes, you read it right; 182 pages which contain "additional new material about Houdini, discuss a few fine-points, and, most important, document the information in the book. And they point to sources for further research," according to author Ken Silverman, in his introduction to this companion volume.

I have decidedly mixed feelings about this supplementary book. Perhaps this was a choice of the publisher; doubtless inclusion of this material with the main text would have raised the price of that volume, or maybe there was concern that the very density of the material would discourage the purchase of the book by the general public. But having just read Dino, a biography of Dean Martin written by Nick Tosches, I noted the inclusion therein, in a popular paperback, of no less than 115 pages of notes and source materials, plus another 46 pages of discography and filmography. While it is true that not every reader would be interested in the complete range of these additional notes, by excluding them from the main text, a barrier is raised which creates an insurmountable gulf between the two readerships, leaving no room for any crossover between. The imposition of this chasm is regrettable, because it neither encourages nor rewards interest. Indeed, interested parties unfamiliar with the magic industry may not find it an easy matter to locate this volume, as the only information concerning located it that is provided in the biography lists only the name of the publisher and the fact that they are located in Washington, D.C.

That said, Kaufman & Greenberg have done a fine job with this little book, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover the inclusion of 47 full-page photographs and illustrations, drawn from disparate sources but substantially from the collection of Mario Carrandi, including a number of charming family portraits, photos of Harry and Bess, and the last known photograph taken of Houdini the year of his death. The details and degree of Mr. Silverman's efforts are revealed in their depth and breadth, as one begins to fully realize the extent of his efforts in pursuit of his quarry. There is much to be gleaned here, from behind-the-scenes background material to the out and out details of where information was found and how conclusions were reached. As historian Charles Reynolds commented to me, "You can pretty much rely on the fact that if you read it in the Silverman book, it's probably true." And that's a sentence that has probably never been uttered about a Houdini biography before.

Finally, the exquisite dustjacket of this volume lends a hint as to the author's inspiration for the title. The front jacket beautifully reproduces a photo from what appears to be a Houdini scrapbook or journal, into which he has pasted a photograph of himself, taken in Moscow in 1903. The photograph depicts a still youthful, intense Houdini (almost a redundancy), manacled with multiple pairs of handcuffs. The surrounding paper contains some notes, scribbled in German. But at the bottom, it reads in large, bold, John Hancockian scale, punctuated as was his frequent habit to himself:

Harry Houdini

Der Original!!!

6" X 9" cloth cover hardbound with color laminated dustjacket; 182 pages; 47 full-page photographs; 1996; Publisher: Kaufman & Greenberg