Rating: 3 out of 5 Magical Coffee Cups
The 1920s are famous as the golden age of jazz and glamour, but it was also an era of fevered yearning for communion with the spirit world, after the loss of tens of millions in the First World War and the Spanish-flu epidemic. A desperate search for reunion with dead loved ones precipitated a tidal wave of self-proclaimed psychics—and, as reputable media sought stories on occult phenomena, mediums became celebrities.
Against this backdrop, in 1924, the pretty wife of a distinguished Boston surgeon came to embody the raging national debate over Spiritualism, a movement devoted to communication with the dead. Reporters dubbed her the blonde Witch of Lime Street, but she was known to her followers simply as Margery. Her most vocal advocate was none other than Sherlock Holmes’ creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who believed so thoroughly in Margery’s powers that he urged her to enter a controversial contest, sponsored by Scientific American and offering a large cash prize to the first medium declared authentic by its impressive five-man investigative committee. Admired for both her exceptional charm and her dazzling effects, Margery was the best hope for the psychic practice to be empirically verified. Her supernatural gifts beguiled four of the judges. There was only one left to convince…the acclaimed escape artist, Harry Houdini.
I received this book from bloggingforbooks.com
I picked this book to review because I really do love history. I think I have even mentioned that a few times in various reviews. I figured this book was going to be something I loved for the history lessons alone.
It was better than ok but not the most amazing thing either. There were parts of this book that I absolutely loved and I found myself bringing the book over to people to tell them the random fact that I had just learned. For instance, Houdini really hated when others would imitate his shows and would often show up at these shows to basically challenge them.
“He recalled how when one German pretender failed, he dragged him, still cuffed, to the footlights of a Berlin stage and ordered him to admit defeat or he would not release him.”
Basically, you really shouldn’t get on Houdini’s bad side. And Margery became Houdini’s obsession, well, spiritualism in general. He wanted irrefutable proof that the dead could communicate and if he found someone to be faking, he went after them with everything he had. I never knew before this book just how intense he was regarding spiritualism.
These antics of mine (running around telling people things I learned) were reminiscent of when I read Dead Wake by Erik Larson and I was crazy about that book. But there were other parts of this book where I felt there were details that were just not needed. I do love details in these types of books but I think the details were about people and events that were a little too outside of the main story if that makes sense. It was interesting to hear about other people and other mediums but it became too hard to keep track of everyone in this book. Lots of scientists throughout this book.
I also found this book to be so packed with facts that I couldn’t read a lot in one sitting. I could only read a few chapters then I had to take a break. It was like reading a textbook at times.
Even though I have just said that there were parts that were overpacked with information I still wanted more. Crazy, right? Many times throughout this book Jaher mentions photos and illustrations that I would love to see and I don’t know why they weren’t in the book. There were photos of Houdini, Margery, and a few others but not of the spirit photography or photos that showed things that happened during the séances.
“…they caught mysterious flashes and patches of light around the scales or hovering near Margery.”
I want to see these photos.
In the end, this was very interesting and I am glad I had the chance to read it. I had initially thought this book would be one that I would put in my school library but I am at odds with this choice due to the fact that the scientists had to search Margery before each sitting. As in:
“Bird remarked that he only inspected her vagina and not her rectum or esophagus…”
Talk of the medium’s vagina and what she might be hiding in there is prevalent throughout this book. It was pretty ridiculous that she would go through this type of search so often.
*In my library we sometimes pair fiction books up with what we feel could be their non-fiction counterparts. If I were to do that with this book I think I would choose Cat Winters In the Shadow of Blackbirds. Around the same time frame or a little before, but also dealing with séances. I think it would give the reader a good idea of how much these séances meant to people at the time.
Another random fact- This book glows in the dark!