Thursday, January 12, 2017

Conan Doyle, Houdini, and the Unmasking of a Medium

In the 1920s following WWI and the influenza epidemic, many people were anxious to communicate with dead relatives. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, was one of these people. He lost his son in the war and was convinced that he could communicate with him through a medium.

Conan Doyle became friends with Houdini. Both were interested in Spiritualism, but Houdini, the great illusionist, was skeptical of the claims of most mediums. After Conan Doyle’s visit to the US where he lectured on Spiritualism, the Scientific American became interested. They proposed a contest to find whether mediums could do what they advertised.

Conan Doyle and Houdini were judges. Conan Doyle was a believer, but Houdini was skeptical. The only medium who seemed to be genuine was Mina Crandon, known as Margery. Conan Doyle believed in her completely, but Houdini was not convinced. It became a contest between the medium and the illusionist.

If you’re interested in Spiritualism in the 1920s, this is a great book. The author gives an in-depth picture of what people believed and why the belief was so prevalent. I enjoyed the historical picture, but found the book very slow starting. We got a long biography of Houdini and likewise a picture of Conan Doyle after the war.

For me the action starts after the midpoint of the book when the contest takes place. The early history is useful because it gives context for why Houdini and Conan Doyle believed what they did. However, you have to stick to some rather boring chapters to get to the contest and discover the outcome.

I received this book from Blogging for Book for this review.