Harry Houdini, born in 1874, was considered the greatest magician and escape artist of his era, and possibly of all time. When he died in 1926 from a ruptured appendix, Houdini left his magician’s equipment to his brother Theodore, his former partner who performed under the name Hardeen. His library of books on magic and the occult was offered to the American Society for Psychical Research on the condition that J. Malcolm Bird, research officer and editor of the ASPR Journal, resign. Bird refused, and the collection went instead to the Library of Congress. The rabbits he pulled out of his hat went to the children of friends. Houdini left his wife a secret code — ten words chosen at random — that he would use to contact her from the afterlife. His wife held annual séances on Halloween for ten years after his death, but Houdini never appeared.
As kids, books like The Visual Dictionary and David Macaulay’s The Way Things Work were our most-prized possessions. We’d spend hours pouring over insect classifications or a cutaway diagram of a combustion engine.
The Visual Handbook for Building and Remodeling ($23) is like that, but for grown ups: 600 pages of detailed color illustrations covering everything from timber frame joints to span & load calculation tables to sun path charts for optimizing passive solar heating in your cabin.
Books we love:
The Practice of the Wild by Gary Snyder
Snyder (a mountaineer, zen buddhist, Pulitzer-prize winning poet, and inspiration for the main character in Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums) melds anthropology and lyricism in this short volume of essays contemplating the meaning and ethics of Nature.
From the opening essay:
"Wild and free." …Both words, profoundly political and sensitive as they are, have become consumer baubles. I hope to investigate the meaning of wild and how it connects with free and what one would want to do with these meanings. To be truly free one must take on the basic conditions as they are — painful, impermanent, open, imperfect — and then be grateful for impermanence and the freedom it grants us.