THE RIGHT WAY TO DO WRONG
A Unique Selection of Writings by History’s Greatest Escape Artist
By Harry Houdini
Melville House. 150 pp. Paperback, $15
Before David Copperfield made the Great Wall of China disappear and David Blaine was frozen in a block of ice, there was a Hungarian-born Jew who made a career of escaping from handcuffs, milk cans and prison cells: Harry Houdini. In “The Right Way to Do Wrong,” the reprint of a book originally published in 1906, he offers advice, in memoir form, for upright citizens seeking to avoid pickpockets and confidence men. Houdini was famous not just as an illusionist but for exposing spiritualist mediums, whom he was able to catch cheating during seances.
“There is an under world — a world of cheat and crime — a world whose highest good is successful evasion of the laws of the land,” he writes. “You who live your life in placid respectability know but little of the real life of the denizens of this world.” Unfortunately, one learns little about Houdini himelf from this at least partly ghostwritten book. Transplanted to Wisconsin at age 4, he ran away to join the circus at 9. Yet “The Right Way to Do Wrong” doesn’t explore his passions for carnivals and escapes.