On the top floor of the History Museum at the Castle in Harry Houdini’s hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin, there are seven large cardboard boxes locked away in a back room. Each is filled with documents and diary entries, letters, and articles and note cards about the legendary escape artist, who died in 1926. In my book, I call them “the Silverman Boxes.” They are the work of the great biographer Ken Silverman.

Silverman attempted an audacious magic trick of his own: He tried to write a true book about Harry Houdini. I’d argue no one had ever dared attempt that before. There had been many, many books written about Houdini by the mid-1990s, when Silverman took his shot. But all previous biographers were, in the end, commanded by Houdini.