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Abracadabra!: Secret Methods Magicians & Others Use to Deceive Their Audience Hardcover – October, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

From Scientific American

A dozen triumphs of optical deception fill Walter Wick's book of large-page color photographs, almost all of them showing puzzling scenes exquisitely built and lucidly explained. Few are novel in idea, but they are so well presented that they are compelling. Thoughtful kids eight and up will delight in them, just as will anyone who likes to think clearly about images. They include a forklike object, impossibly made with three tines and two tines all at once; surfaces with hollows as abundant as moon craters (or maybe they are bumps); and a cubical "box" that casts no shadows. Mirrors, shadows and cunning cabinetry act both to induce illusions and to reveal them. The details of that strange open framework of wood that looks as though it passes through itself are viewed here in a mirror placed just right, although the false fit is so elegant that even as you see it you can hardly accept what you know. Abracadabra! is another unusually captivating book of the strange. A well-documented argument at book length, it is open to interested readers from their teens on up. Most books on magic are mainly broad historical accounts or detailed explanations of how to carry out some specific deception as entertainment. This is, instead, a wide-ranging analysis of the principles of illusion, and it is a hard book to lay down. To sample minimally: the key words are two--misdirection and professionalism. Misdirection in space is familiar, waving a left hand while putting the right one into a pocket. Misdirection in time can be examined through a version of an escape illusion of Houdini's, often brilliantly done these days by a husband-wife team in Las Vegas. The man is tied into a bag and placed within a locked trunk. Much is made of lacing a large canvas around the trunk. The woman stands on the trunk holding a silk curtain. She lifts the curtain once before her face and form; it is lowered in seconds, but now only the man is there. He proceeds to unlace the trunk, open the bag and recover his magical wife. The exchange seems to have taken place in a blink of the eye as the silk fell. Not at all: the man's escape can begin as soon as the trunk is closed. He is soon out--if he ever was within. The second exchange really lasted a minute; its abruptness was an illusory emphasis, a powerful misdirection in time. The performer's guiding patter, the side view, the sounds, even the smell--any information channel can be used to mislead. Yet how can anyone enter and leave those trunks and bags in a minute? Her entry was sudden, dropping down into the trunk via an unseen open trapdoor into the bag. The bag may have no bottom or one held by Velcro. Here the entire development of an illusionary technology is drawn on, a culture of ingenious professionals who design and make such devices and of the skills and theatricality of the performers. How can a spectator outwit them? That needs a viewer cleverer than they--by no means a likely assumption. A close-up video recording is a minimum of what is needed: one such study is narrated here. The lesson of these two fine books runs deep. Studied illusion, old as the shamans, lies near physical science, for both analyze false perceptions, the older art to induce them, the newer to avoid them. Albert Einstein once explained what he saw in this difference: "The Lord God is subtle, but malicious he is not." Humankind cannot claim that same innocence, and illusion is a much more serious matter offstage than on.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 481 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (October 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573921637
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573921633
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #617,965 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kate Oszko on June 2, 2009
Format: Paperback
I am an absolute sucker for magic shows. When we lived in the US we went to a restaurant where a magician moved between tables doing tricks. Even right up close I had no idea how he did what he did.

This book does provide a lot of information about how tricks are done, including the fact that audiences are happy to play along. Everything the performer does is choreographed and planned to mislead and distract. It is psychological manipulation, using our assumptions against us to surprise and baffle us.

As well as going into a lot of detail about certain tricks, the author also provides us with little psychological games to play, to show the us how our minds can work against us. As well as examining traditional magic, he looks at manipulation as it's practiced in everyday life through advertising and other forms of persuasion. It's one thing to be tricked when we are happy to go along for the ride. It's another when we are made to do what others want us to, almost without realising it.

This book reveals some of the mystery - but even after reading it I still think I would be hard pressed to spot the sleight of hand. Magicians, good magicians, are masters of what they do. They are there to entertain and I am happy to play along.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Daniel C Lyman on April 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover
There are a million books of tricks out there. All of them can be outgrown when you learn the tricks and then when you outgrow the tricks. I have a library full of them. This book can never be outgrown because it only uses individual tricks as an example to illustrate the parts of Magic Theory. If you understand the Theory of magic you'll be able to rise to a more professional level in this craft. You'll be able to think like a magician. You'll understand why and how misdirection works. Why a "magic moment" is so satisfying and yet baffling to the audience. Why nobody can see the gimmick in your hand. It is a tool box of ways to think about tricks and performances and audiences. It is a different kind of book than any other book of magic I know.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 27, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Schiffman writes an interesting book but has a tendency to get a little side-tracked. His observations on brainwashing, advertising, marketing, and the camouflaging of the Lockheed plant during WW2 were interesting, but not why I bought the book. If he would have not strayed as far from the title, I would have enjoyed it more. The author also has a minor tendency to go into great detail where it is not required and to glance over other really interesting subjects. The book contains a detailed bibliography and glossary that make a good reference.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on January 2, 2006
Format: Paperback
Magicians use more than smoke and mirrors to deceive audiences, but their secrets are rarely revealed. Writer and magic enthusiast Nathaniel Schiffman's Abracadabra! Secret Methods Magicians And Others Use To Deceive Their Audience provides a lay reader's guide to common methods used to fool or mislead audiences. While experiments and magic tricks are included, the focus here is on how a magician manipulates the audience toward belief: an intriguing expose is created.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Lewis on August 10, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book did not disappoint. A well researched body of work and written for the average layperson. While some of the chapters stalled in certain areas, the overall work is great for those who must figure out how these magicians do the "impossible" tricks they do.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Topnotch guide to illusions of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Illusions are presented at first as they would be perceived by the audience, then explained with the aid of excellent diagrams. They are also organised by type of illusion, making it easy to focus on one particular area - for example, a section on making a person disappear and all the versions and methods used at the time.

The most surprising part of this book was that some of these illusions are still being performed today.

I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Lawrence R. Oleary on June 2, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great in depth knowledge in how to be professional at the art of Magic.
I am not worried about the ticks being exposed at all as the ones in this book are old well known examples designed to open the magicians mind to creating their own acts. If you are serious about learning magic this book is a good overall manual for developing your skill to a higher level.
From understanding stage demeanor to training techniques this book is a great read.
Lawrence O'Leary
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 12, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This book was created by gathering a number of random thoughts available from the Internet with very little effort made to verify sources. Go to the WEB yourself and search on "Magic": the results will be as insightful. Waste of money !!! Books by Mark Wison, Bill Tarr or from the Dover collection are highly recommended over the collection of... STUPID and INCOHERENT thoughts.
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