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The Elusive American

Adam Begley

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From the prizewinning Jewish Lives series, an exuberant biography of the world’s greatest escape artist
“Will leave [readers] entertained and astonished, and that’s a kind of magic of its own.”—Jerry Z. Muller, Jewish Review of Books
In 1916, the war in Europe having prevented a tour abroad, Harry Houdini wrote a film treatment for a rollicking motion picture. Though the movie was never made, its title, “The Marvelous Adventures of Houdini: The Justly Celebrated Elusive American,” provides a succinct summary of the Master Mystifier’s life.
Born Erik Weisz in Budapest in 1874, Houdini grew up an impoverished Jewish immigrant in the Midwest and became world-famous thanks to talent, industry, and ferocious determination. He concealed as a matter of temperament and professional ethics the secrets of his sensational success. Nobody knows how Houdini performed some of his dazzling, death-defying tricks, and nobody knows, finally, why he felt compelled to punish and imprison himself over and over again. Tracking the restless Houdini’s wide-ranging exploits, acclaimed biographer Adam Begley tells the story of a mystifying man’s astonishing career.
About Jewish Lives:
Jewish Lives is a prizewinning series of interpretative biography designed to explore the many facets of Jewish identity. Individual volumes illuminate the imprint of Jewish figures upon literature, religion, philosophy, politics, cultural and economic life, and the arts and sciences. Subjects are paired with authors to elicit lively, deeply informed books that explore the range and depth of the Jewish experience from antiquity to the present.
In 2014, the Jewish Book Council named Jewish Lives the winner of its Jewish Book of the Year Award, the first series ever to receive this award.
More praise for Jewish Lives:
“Excellent.”—New York Times
“Exemplary.”—Wall Street Journal
“Distinguished.”—New Yorker
“Superb.”—The Guardian

Adam Begley is the author of Updike and The Great Nadar. He was a Guggenheim Fellow, a Fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography, and for many years the books editor of the New York Observer.

“Witty, intelligent, and sprightly, Adam Begley’s Houdini tells a story that is not only central to the American experience, but strangely pertinent to the fakery, fraudulence, and self-promotion dominating our news waves at present.”—Wendy Lesser, author of Jerome Robbins: A Life in Dance

"Vivid."—David Denby, New Yorker

"Splendid. . . . Houdini was a master of self-invention, blending the facts of his life with gross exaggerations and biographical fantasies, all of which Mr. Begley deftly untangles, offering the reader a visceral sense of this deeply mysterious, driven, egomaniacal genius of a man.... Mr. Begley’s book is terrific."—Allan Zola Kronzek, East Hampton Star

"Begley weaves. . . . disparate threads throughout the biography in a compelling narrative, all the while maintaining a subtle reminder that Judaism was on the periphery of Houdini’s life."—Arnie Bernstein, NY Journal of Books

"This biography from Adam Begley goes beyond the questions you’d think to ask. Not so much how did he do it? but why did he feel the need to continually imprison himself? A riveting new read."—Katie Yee, Lit Hub

“Begley’s account of this curious Jewish life...will leave [readers] entertained and astonished, and that’s a kind of magic of its own.”—Jerry Z. Muller, Jewish Review of Books
ISBN: 9780300230796
Publication Date: March 17, 2020
232 pages, 5 3/4 x 8 1/4
27 b/w illus.
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