Houdini’s “The Right Way To Do Wrong”, 1906
I recently stumbled across a wonderful website for lovers of old books – Forgotten Books. You can look at a huge selection of ancient books for free, although there are some pages removed unless you pay for a subscription. But if you sign up to their mailing list, every day they will send you a link to one of their books that is entirely accessible for free for that day. It’s like having a little lucky dip every day.
A few days ago it was this, “The Right Way To Do Wrong” by legendary escapologist Harry Houdini. It’s an exposé of a range of scams used by confidence tricksters of the time – and it’s interesting how many of these are still current, just repackaged a bit.
It reminds of the kind of thing Derren Brown might write, but 100 years earlier. Incidentally, if you’ve never read Derren Brown’s books, I really can’t recommend them enough – they are an absolute joy to read. The man is a great writer, and he also seems to be a completely lovely chap. And you’ll never look at Monster Munch the same way again.
But back to Houdini. It’s really a corker of a book, and very easy to dash through. These are the chapters he covers, I’ll post up a few excerpts from them.
An intriguing chapter about Burglar’s Superstitions:
Begging letter swindles, including chain letters, which I still remember being a thing when I was a kid. Email chain letters – that happened for a while too, didn’t it?
Tricks of Bunco Men – or con men who convince poor saps that they’re about to get a big something for nothing. Much like the Nigerian 419 scams today. This explains the bit in The Paul Daniels Magic Show with the “Bunco Booth” – never knew what that meant.
Tales of quack doctors and psychics – both still very much with us now:
And a bit of autobiog from Houdini at the end. He had one of those old-school interesting lives alright.