Yeah, that Houdini. Houdini was fascinating man and a great magician, but what made him famous was his ability to escape from every cage, cell, rope, and handcuffs. It was this later capability that birthed the idea for this work. Houdini became friends with police officer, investigators and jailors across the world and from those contacts, he compiled a book of true stories along with the correct way to commit crimes. As he wrote in the foreword, this book is not teaching people how to commit crime but to teach the public how to protect themselves.
Those in the “know” still debate whether people should be told how to commit crime. Yes, some good people will learn how to protect themselves, but some bad people will now learn how to commit crimes more effectively. We’ll come back to this debate later, but I think it’s plainly obvious on which side of the debate Houdini fell.
This book covers mail fraud, all-purpose scams, house breaking, safe cracking, and plenty of other nefarious deeds. Many of these schemes still make the rounds today. The name and faces might change but the methods still work.
Houdini spends much time covering the various techniques used to break into homes. Often, crooks will scout out a house and/or neighborhood for a while before they break into a home. In fact, Houdini argued that good criminals only robbed one home a month or so. He also points out that they usually get caught in the end. A major component to avoiding burglary is watchful neighborhood. If neighbors watch for people scouting out a neighborhood, they will protect others and themselves. Simply talking to those who appear out of place can scare away potential crime. Few criminals will return if a neighbor spoke with them for a while. Houdini also argues that homeowners should take simple precautions commonsense precautions: lock the doors and windows, keep valuables in a room other than a bedroom and so on.
Mail fraud you say? Whether it was in 1906 or 2007, mail fraud is the same and quite prolific. Mail fraud lures people with the hope of a free fortune or a fantastic deal. Its mail fraud because the victim nevery meets the crook; everything is handled by mail. Now, mail fraud takes place via e-mail and on the internet. Either way, the rules are straightforward. The crook will contact you and offer you the latest whizbang doodad or deal for a price way below cost. Or maybe you just won a foreign lottery. All you need to do is send the lottery a certified check for $200 for processing fees and they’ll send you $5,000,000. Sounds too good to be true? That’s cause it is.
The subject that interested me the most in this book was begging. In 1906 after traveling around the world, Houdini was convinced that <90% of all beggars were professional beggars or in begging gangs. Whether on the street or via mail, these professional beggars would plead for your hard-earned cash. Now, I have seen too many professional beggars (and known of a few confirmed cases); I don’t trust any beggars. A friend told me that he always gives and figures that God will handle the details. He says that we should give and God will take care of us. I see my position as a bit more frugal and I don’t want to support a slothful person. Oh well, you decide which way you handle it. 🙂
Houdini has a great story about a man visiting Russia who discovered that his coat kept accruing cash while he walked the streets. It’s worth reading the book for that story.
Overall, if crime interests you, then you’ll want to read this book. Despite having been published slightly more than 100 years ago, the principals are still relevant. And if you need a gift for that person who finds crime interesting (from an intellectual point of view), then this might be a great book for a gift.
Buy it here
The audio books is here
The text is here