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Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man

The White Male Body and the Challenge of Modernity in America

John F. Kasson

Hill and Wang

An important new work from one of our premier cultural historians.

Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man considers the surprisingly complex evolution in representations of the white male body in late-nineteenth-century America, during years of rapid social transformation. John F. Kasson argues that three exemplars of physical prowess -- Eugen Sandow, an international vaudeville star and bodybuilder; Edgar Rice Burroughs's fictional hero Tarzan; and the great escape artist Harry Houdini -- represented both an ancient ideal of manhood and a modern commodity. They each extolled self-development, self-fulfillment, and escape from the confines of civilization while at the same time reasserting its values. This liberally illustrated, persuasively argued study analyzes the thematic links among these figures and places them in their rich historical and cultural context.

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Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man
ONEWHO IS THE PERFECT MAN?EUGEN SANDOW AND A NEW STANDARD FOR AMERICA 
 
Images of male muscular development and bodily perfection have both a distinguished lineage and a troubled history in Western culture. Though securely established in classical Greece and Rome, their position afterward became highly precarious, particularly in the context of a Christian pursuit of spiritual perfection that denied the body. In response, artists from the Renaissance on have been remarkably resourceful in attaching both male and female nudes to classical,
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". . . This is a page-turner of a book, with a surprise worth knowing on every beautifully written page." --Linda K. Kerber, University of Iowa

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • John F. Kasson

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

    The White Male Body and the Challenge of Modernity in America

    John F. Kasson

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    FROM THE PUBLISHER

    Hill and Wang

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