by Jim Steinmeyer
Published by Tarcher, February 2011
Everyone knows Houdini but who was Thurston? In this rich vivid biography of “the greatest magician in the world,” the acclaimed 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 illustrates 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.
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.
After Hollywood films came along, there was no longer any need for the great stage magician of the past. Yet generations following Thurston’s death, the grand touring magic shows have endured with new performers like Harry Blackstone Jr., Doug Henning and David Copperfield. As Steinmeyer ultimately reveals each time another charismatic wonder-worker can surprise us with a combination of new feats and old classics, he stands in the footsteps of Howard Thurston—“the last greatest magician in the world.”
Jim Steinmeyer is the critically acclaimed author of The Glorious Deception, Charles Fort, and Hiding the Elephant, a Los Angeles Times bestseller. He is also a leading designer of magic illusion and has done work for television, Broadway, and many of the best-known names in modern magic. He lives in Los Angeles.
“...does justice to the Golden Age of Magic and to a man who, in the author's words, was "a distinctive mixture of ignoble confidence games, personal desperation, and a masterful talent to amaze and surprise.”
-- The Washington Post
“...vividly conjures up Howard Thurston's troubled life and great illusions.”
-- The Wall Street Journal
“Jim Steinmeyer knows the outside-in world of magic from the inside: he is a celebrated ‘invisible of the man’—inventor, designer, and creative brain behind many of the great stage magicians of the last quarter century…. Steinmeyer writes about events a century ago as vividly as if he had been there: and in a sense, he has been….No author has ever better conveyed the way the love of conjuring consumes a magician’s life with magic’s joys terrors and and longings.”
-- Teller (of Penn and Teller) The New York Times Book Review
“Thurston’s rise to the heights of showbiz fame paralleled the thrilling American boom years between the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago and the financial crash of 1929, and Steinmeyer, in his quiet, workmanlike way, captures it all vividly.”
-- Kirkus Review