Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man: The White Male Body and the Challenge of Modernity in America

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Jul 2, 2002 - Social Science - 288 pages
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A remarkable new work from one of our premier historians

In his exciting new book, John F. Kasson examines the signs of crisis in American life a century ago, signs that new forces of modernity were affecting men's sense of who and what they really were.

When the Prussian-born Eugene Sandow, an international vaudeville star and bodybuilder, toured the United States in the 1890s, Florenz Ziegfeld cannily presented him as the "Perfect Man," representing both an ancient ideal of manhood and a modern commodity extolling self-development and self-fulfillment. Then, when Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan swung down a vine into the public eye in 1912, the fantasy of a perfect white Anglo-Saxon male was taken further, escaping the confines of civilization but reasserting its values, beating his chest and bellowing his triumph to the world. With Harry Houdini, the dream of escape was literally embodied in spectacular performances in which he triumphed over every kind of threat to masculine integrity -- bondage, imprisonment, insanity, and death. Kasson's liberally illustrated and persuasively argued study analyzes the themes linking these figures and places them in their rich historical and cultural context. Concern with the white male body -- with exhibiting it and with the perils to it --reached a climax in World War I, he suggests, and continues with us today.

 

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HOUDINI, TARZAN, AND THE PERFECT MAN: The White Male Body and the Challenge of Modernity in America

User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

Men in loincloths and the crisis of modernity! What's a turn-of-the-century boy to do?Kasson (Rudeness and Civility, 2000) maintains that there was a metamorphosis of masculinity in the dawning years ... Read full review

Houdini, Tarzan, and the perfect man: the White male body and the challenge of modernity in America

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Here is an unusual and thought-provoking look at the evolving concept of manhood from the late 19th century through the World War I era, when social, technological, business, and urban changes ... Read full review

Contents

Title Page
ONE WHO IS THE PERFECT MAN?
TWO THE MANLY ART OF ESCAPE
ESCAPE ARTIST
IMPRISONED MALE BODY
NEARLY DYING FOR A LIVING
MASCULINE VERSUS FEMININE MAGIC
AN UNSOUGHT CHALLENGE
REASSERTION OF HIERARCHY
CONCLUSION
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
INDEX
Copyright

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About the author (2002)

John F. Kasson, who teaches history and American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the author of Houdini, Tarzan and the Perfect Man, Amusing the Million, Rudeness and Civility, and Civilizing the Machine.

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