Houdini and Biography: How Truth Escapes Us

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Meet biographer Adam Begley, author of Houdini: The Elusive American, in conversation with Sam Leith, literary editor of the Spectator.

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They will be in conversation about the celebrated escape artist Harry Houdini, how biographers work and what they hope to achieve.

Born Erik Weisz in Budapest in 1874, Houdini grew up as an impoverished Jewish immigrant in America’s Midwest and became world famous—and part of the language—thanks to talent, industry, and ferocious determination. Adam Begley has taken on this fascinating and elusive figure, asking the essential question: What kind of man was this?

Houdini: The Elusive American, part of the Yale University Press Jewish Lives series, will be published on May 20th, 2020. Advance praise makes clear its peculiar relevance to our times: “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

Adam Begley, former books editor of The New York Observer, is the author of biographies of John Updike and French portrait photographer, Nadar. He was a Guggenheim Fellow and a Fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Guardian, Financial Times, London Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement, and the Spectator.

Sam Leith is the author of Write to the Point: How to be Clear, Correct and Persuasive on the Page. A former literary editor of the Daily Telegraph, Sam contributes regularly to the Evening Standard, Guardian, Wall Street Journal and Prospect. His books include Dead Pets, Sod's Law, You Talkin’ to Me? Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama, and a novel, The Coincidence Engine, published in 2011 and included in Waterstone’s list of the best first novels of that year.

Date: 19 May 2020

Time: 6:30 – 7.45pm

Venue: online

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