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Big Secrets Paperback – June 26, 1985


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (June 26, 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688048307
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688048303
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,146,571 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William Poundstone is the author of two previous Hill and Wang books: Fortune's Formula and Gaming the Vote.

Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
I don't understand some of these negative reviews. It's my impression that those reviewers were upset at Poundstone for telling about their secret organizations. All that aside, this book and its two sequels, Bigger Secrets and Biggest Secrets, are full of fascinating information you're not supposed to know. The formula for Coke, how to beat a lie detector test, how David Copperfield floated a ball, secret stuff on U.S. currency, etc. Poundstone also writes well. His prose has a touch of dry wit to it. This is an excellent book and hard to put down. In Bigger Secrets he blows the lid on how David Copperfield vanished the Statue of Liberty in 1983, which in my opinion is one of the most interesting things he's exposed. I wish he'd write 10 more sequels--I'd buy them all.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 8, 1997
Format: Paperback
"Big Secrets" (and its sequel, "Bigger Secrets") are wonderful. The thing I like best about them is Poundstone's own honesty--he doesn't keep any secrets of his own. He tells you exactly _how_ he found out what he found out.

A Shriner may pledge that if he divulges the secrets of his order, he may incur "the penalty of having my eyeballs pierced to the center with a three-edged blade." But Poundstone discovered a Masonic supply house ("The Geo. Lauterer Corporation") that works by mail order and doesn't check ID, ordered a selection of titles, and tells us all of the inside skinny on IAOM and Tubal-Cain.

"Big Secrets" tells as much as Poundstone could find out about the secret formula for Coca-Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken. It tells how the Rorschach test works and how to cheat on it. It tells several methods by which magicians saw a woman in two (you see, one of them is patented, so if you write the patent office and ask for patent #1,458,575...)

"Bigger Secrets" is equally good, maybe better. I think my favorite is his description of what the Rosicrucians are really like, but his explanation of how David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty Vanish and his analysis of backward and "subliminal" messages in records and movies are also excellent.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Ganesh Prometheus on July 6, 2006
Format: Paperback
I'm a librarian with over fifteen years' experience in my profession, and this is one of my favorite reference books. I find it more amusing than irritating that this book's rating has been driven down by, variously, a magician, a bitter would-be know-it-all, and a couple of Freemasons. The way that they respond to this book is probably one of the best testimonials to its relevance and quality.

The "big secrets" that Poundstone reveals are, in large part, not that difficult to discover on one's own. With all of the Masons walking around, there are bound to be a few that will blab about the sooper-seekrit initiation ceremonies. With all of the minimum-wage fast food workers, it has to be pretty easy to get a sample of the KFC chicken coating for analysis. With all of the magic books that have been written and published... you get the idea.

The real secret that Poundstone reveals in these instances is that they really aren't secrets, but have been promoted as such by those who benefit from the illusion of secrecy. The whole myth behind Coca-Cola, for example--that the formula is secret, that there's a secret ingredient "7X", that only two people know the formula, and they each only know part of it, and that they can't travel on the same plane--is pure corporate hogwash. The recipe for the syrup has been part of the public legal record for decades. The centuries-old initiation rites of the Masons are pretty much like the ones that you made up for your neighborhood "No Gurls Alowd" clubhouse when you were eight, only with somewhat better props. Stage magicians are still flogging the same tired tricks that were old when Houdini was a kid in Appleton, Wisconsin. And so on.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By C. Pellitteri on July 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
Out of the three "Big Secrets" books, this one is the best. "Bigger Secrets" and "Biggest Secrets" have some great stuff in them as well, but there is also a lot of "so what?" information in them. Perhaps a little "padding". The first book, though, has some great stuff. Especially entertaining are the items about things you find on money and the info on Disneyland. Defenitely worth the read.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Erica D. Donovan on July 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
A must-have for human sponges, Big Secrets gives the low-down an all the important stuff in life. No, Walt Disney is not frozen, and yes, there ARE messages on records Mom doesn't want you to know about. Never mind about who shot JFK or Area 51 -- Big Secrets is truly the good stuff.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Carl Tait on August 10, 2008
Format: Paperback
Yes, it's true that this book is over 20 years old and contains a bit of outdated information. So what? It's still an enormously entertaining read, and contains much information that is not outdated at all, such as the actual inkblots used in the Rorschach test. Putting together this sort of book a decade before the Google era was quite an accomplishment.

"Big Secrets" is also notable for its breadth of coverage and its selection of topics that are almost all interesting. The major weakness of Poundstone's later volumes in this series -- "Bigger Secrets" and "Biggest Secrets" -- is that they are much more uneven. Sure, it's great that "Bigger Secrets" was the first to publish the true recipe for Antoine's Oysters Rockefeller (parsley, olive oil, and capers are the main ingredients -- no spinach!), but the book as a whole is much less interesting that "Big Secrets."

Use this book as a fascinating, well-researched starting point and you won't be disappointed.
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