Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Review: The Last Greatest Magician in the World by Jim Steinmeyer

Title: The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston vs. Houdini and the Battle of American Wizards

Author: Jim Steinmeyer


Who Should Read It? This is a great non-fiction for people who are used to reading fiction but thinking of delving into the world of non. There's mystery and magic and excitement, and well - Neil Patrick Harris and Neil Gaiman loved it. What more do I need say?

What I Have to Say:Jim Steinmeyer knows magic, and he knows magicians, and he knows how to write about them. Put those three things together, and what you get in The Last Greatest Magician is one of the most intriguing and exciting biographies I've ever read.

To be honest, before reading this book, it had been AGES since I last read a biography. It's not that I'm not interested - reading about the lives of interesting or well-known (or sometimes not well-known) people has always fascinated me, but I've often found biographies to be somewhat dry. I've therefore always preferred fiction books laced with fact. In the Last Greatest Magician in the World, though, Steinmeryer has, for the most part, managed to avoid the dry stigma attached to biographies. There are definitely some parts that are dry (let's face it, when you're telling the life story of someone, that's just going to happen), but the majority of the time I actually forgot that I was reading a biography. It was exciting and intense and filled with good guys and bad guys and crazy plots of madness and revenge.

Steinmeyer takes subject matter that is, even at its core, exciting, and turns it into an utterly readable, magnificent story. I wanted to like Thurston, and it seems obvious to me that the author has a great respect for Thurston, but he approached the material in such an objective way that, even through the author's obvious bias, there were times when I hated him, when I desperately wanted Houdini to one-up him. Even now, after having finished, I can't decide if I liked him or hated him. One thing is clear, though, in the Last Greatest Magician in the World, Steinmeyer pulls you so completely into the world of Thurston that there is no grey - either you love him or you hate him.

Steinmeyer writes with knowledge, grace, and intelligence. As someone who has been interested in magic from a very young age (haven't we all?), I was thrilled to read the story of Thurston and his interactions with his wives and children and, especially, other well-known magicians such as Houdini and Thurston. If you have ever had an interest in magic, this book is definitely for you. Steinmeyer has turned Thurston's story into the story of all magician's, and it will satisfy your curiosity on all counts. Even if you're not a huge fan of biographies, I would recommend giving this book a try. (and plus, Neil Patrick Harris says it's awesome!)

Summary:Here is the seminal biography of the magician's magician, Howard Thurston, a man who surpassed Houdini in the eyes of showmen and fans and set the standard fro how stage magic is performed today.

Everyone knows Houdini-but who was Thurston? In this rich, vivid biography of the "greatest magician in the world," celebrated historian of stage magic Jim Steinmeyer captures the career and controversies of the wonder-worker extraordinaire, Howard Thurston.

The public's fickleness over magicians has left Thurston all but forgotten today. Yet Steinmeyer shows how his story is one of the most remarkable in show business. During his life, from 1869 to 1936, Thurston successfully navigated the most dramatic changes in entertainment-from street performances to sideshows to wagon tours through America's still-wild West to stage magic amid the glitter of grand theaters.

Thurston became one of America's most renowned vaudeville stars, boldly performing an act with just a handful of playing cards, and then had the foresight to leave vaudeville, expanding his show into an extravaganza with more than forty tons of apparatusand costumes. His touring production was an American institution for nearly thirty years, and Thurston earned a brand name equal to Ziegfeld or Ringling Brothers.

Steinmeyer explores the stage and psychological rivalry between Thurston and Houdini during the first decades of the twentieth century- a contest that Thurston won. He won with a bigger show, a more successful reputation, and the title of America's greatest magician. In The Last Greatest Magician in the World, Thurston's magic show is revealed as the one that animates our collective memories.

Cover Story: Super cool - so mystical and magical and intriguing!

Disclosure: This book was sent to me for review via Shelf Awareness. This in no way affected my review.


Tales of Whimsy said...

This sounds so cool. Thanks for the review.

Side note: SUPER cool cover

Blodeuedd said...

Eh, not for me, but if I liked magicians then yay :)

Sara said...

Sounds really interesting! Does he reveal any of his magic tricks? :P

Simcha said...

I've had my eye on this book since anything mentioning Houdini is of interest to me. And I do enjoy a good biography. While I'm not familiar with Thurston this does sound like a fascinating book and I would definitely love to read it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your review. One of my New Year's Resolutions was to read more non-fiction as I calculated that only 2% of the books I read last year were non-fiction. This one sounds really good and I'll definitely be tracking it down :-)

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