Houdini’s On Deception is a rather interesting little book (and it is indeed a slim volume). He doesn’t give away any trade secrets – as you’d expect – but is a collection of essays on different ways in which deception occurs, from stagecraft, mediums, to more serious deceptions against the public, including theft and ways of relieving people of money.
It was originally published in 1906 and caused a bit of a stir. No doubt criminals weren’t too happy on many of their ways being exposed and there are some classic techniques exposed here that have manifested novels and films (and indeed, that was one of the reasons I wanted to read this myself). It’s not just an exposition of the criminal underworld, though – Houdini goes to great lengths to explain some tricks of the trade of getting out of handcuffs, picking locks, through to sword swallowing and coping with being bitten by a poisonous snake as part of a show. What it doesn’t do is give you much of an investigation of the nature of deception, of the psychology behind such trickery.
Houdini does enjoy giving a bit of a kicking to his rivals – mostly because they’re a bit crap compared to him – and his ego isn’t constrained much. Something else that comes to mind is that only relentless practice and remarkable dedication to the craft made him what he was: you don’t get the skills (and an ego) like his without painstaking effort.