The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston versus Houdini and the Battles of the American Wizards

Jim Steinmeyer, Tarcher, $26.95 (384p) ISBN 978-1-58542-845-8
Expanding on his chapters on Howard Thurston in his history of magic, Hiding the Elephant, Steinmeyer produces an engaging full-length biography of the man Orson Welles called “the master.” While Houdini’s daring stunts were legendary, Steinmeyer says Thurston was the public’s favorite, captivating audiences with his “self-assured grandeur.” Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, Thurston gained fame in the early part of the 20th century with his “Rising Card Trick,” in which he levitated cards named by audience members. He successfully changed with the times, going from street performances to wagon tours through the West. He then became a top vaudeville star, but wisely left the vaudeville circuit to produce more ambitious spectacles involving 40 tons of magic apparatus and colorful costumes, a variety of animals, and more than two dozen assistants. Tracing the magician’s rise to fame, this volume neatly juggles his marriages and his magic with his triumphs, travails, showmanship, and marketing ballyhoo (“The Wonder Show of the Universe”). Steinmeyer recovers, from the shadows of his greatest rival, a figure whose grandiose productions were an American institution for almost 30 years. (Feb. 3)
Reviewed on: 12/13/2010
Release date: 02/01/2011
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