Fans of the great Houdini and those fascinated by magic should have a ball with the newest biography of the great magician. Houdini died 80 years ago but his legacy is such that his name has become legend. Then, just when you think there’s nothing new to say about one of the most talented and mysterious showmen of the past century, comes The Secret Life of Houdini (The Making of America’s First Superhero) by William Kalush and Larry Sloman (591 pages, hard bound, $29.95).
Another interesting new arrival at Gambler’s Book Club is Bill Bravenec’s The College Football Handicapper — How to Beat the Spread in College Football (149 pages, paperbound, $19.95). The author only discovered GBC in November as an outlet, otherwise we would have had the book at season’s beginning in August.
Looking first at the Houdini work, well-illustrated and indexed, the authors, having dug into millions of pages of research, suggest the great magician was involved in more than dangerous feats of magic. They claim he also acted as a spy for the British government (the equivalent to the CIA at the turn of the century was an agency known as MI-5). Some of the biggest names in magic assisted the authors in their research, including actor-magician Ricky Jay, David Copperfield, David Blaine, and an army of Houdini experts, researchers, collectors of memorabilia, lending much credibility to the premise.
As the book jacket says: “meticulously researched, imaginatively written, passionately presented … the most controversial biography ever written about the man.”
From Houdini’s earliest days to his final hours, the book is fascinating reading. What was the role of his wife, Bess? What lead to his controversial last days? Were the events accident or did they emanate from an angry (Spiritualists) religion plotting revenge?
Houdini’s life took place in a very special time in history, a time when America and the world were changing. It’s a time that did not receive the kind of immediate publicity we see today. So much was secretive or just unspoken.This book uncovers a lot, not just about Houdini, but about the times as well. It would make a fine gift for anyone interested in magic or has become fascinated with the mystique of a true showman and American hero. And what a movie this would make if Hollywood had the patience, dedication and inclination to do so.
Bill Bravenec hails from the Dallas, TX area. His book, The College Football Handicapper is both a how-to and a personal diary of the 2005-06 season, analyzing dozens of games statistically and against the line. He’s been handicapping since 1994 and is active in the banking and finance field. He despises parlays and teasers, calling them “sucker bets” and focuses on straight bets. Bravenec gets his advice across quickly, from pages 9 through 12, where he explains how to find statistical mismatches strong rushing offense going against a weak rushing defense. He particularly loves to concentrate on factors like returning starters in early season games and clearly likes avoid rivalry games.
Last year he says he made 60 picks, winning 40 of them, losing 20, from Oct. 1, 2005 to Jan. 4, 2006. He examines those games in the book, offering analysis along with key box score statistics and what each team’s record looked like, including each team’s spread history to that point in the season.
This is a good book for beginners with patience who yearn for a simple, easy-to-apply method to handicap college games. (Some readers may recognize Bravenec’s format as being similar to the one used by Andy Iskoe and Logical Approach for many years in his annual College Football Statistical Pattern Report.)
Overall, I hope we’ll see Bravenec show us three or four years of research in the future. One season is fine, but bettors love to see consistency over the long haul; perhaps that will come with the next edition.