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Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions Paperback – January 1, 1982

124 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 342 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (January 1, 1982)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0879751983
  • ISBN-13: 978-0879751982
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (124 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #154,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James Randi (born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge; August 7, 1928) is a Canadian-American stage magician and scientific skeptic best known as a challenger of paranormal claims and pseudoscience. Randi is the founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). Randi began his career as a magician, as The Amazing Randi, but after retiring at age 60, he began investigating paranormal, occult, and supernatural claims, which he collectively calls "woo-woo." Although often referred to as a "debunker," Randi rejects that title owing to its perceived bias, instead describing himself as an "investigator." He has written about the paranormal, skepticism, and the history of magic. He was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and was occasionally featured on the television program Penn & Teller: Bullshit!.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

162 of 171 people found the following review helpful By Jonah Cohen on September 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
James Randi is well renowned as one of the world's most prominent skeptics, as well he should be. He has offered a million dollar prize to anyone who can prove in scientifically controlled tests that they possess some kind of paranormal power. Go figure, no one has ever been able to do so, and most self-proclaimed psychics, diviners etc have simply refused to be tested. A common excuse is that 'negative vibrations/energy' from non-believers interfers with their 'powers'. Translation: "I can prove I can do anything... as long as it's only to people who are already firmly convinced that I can."

This book's most interesting sections include accounts of some people who have tried to claim this prize, and often descriptions of the trickery they tried to pull. Famous scams and flim-flammery are also discussed. The perpetrators range from the honestly mistaken, to those manipulated by others (including children) to the deluded to the knowing liars. It's not a read that will lift your opinion of humanity, but it's well worth reading.

The book is not without its flaws. Randi is correctly portrayed as pissed off - and given the insistent idiocy he deals with, perhaps that's no surprise. The topics veer through a hodgepodge of the allegedly paranormal, making it read a little too episodic. At times, the prose gets dry. For example, the chapter on the Cottingly Faeries goes into technical details about cameras, which I had a tough time understanding.

Worth noting are some false claims that negative reviewers have made on Amazon. Randi does NOT maintain a dogmatic insistance that all paranormal claims are false. He bases his belief that such claims are hooey not on faith, but on evidence, having seen many (many, many) which are false, and none that have proven true.
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95 of 102 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on September 15, 2002
Format: Paperback
I formerly referred to another book available from as a great primer for those challenging New Age nonsense and other contemporary fads. A fellow skeptic challenged that claim saying this one is better. I agree!
Randi exposes more foolishness than any other of the texts I've read, from Arthur Conan Doyle and his taste for fairies, to the Maharishi to UFOs. And he's not subtle about his distaste for it. Granted, he does give credit to those who really believe in their craft. For instance, there are dousers and the like who really believe they're gifted with the talent for the bizarre. There are others, however, who are simply crooks who've lined up a gullible public with their credit cards. I actually appreciate Randi's powerful attitudes. Why get so "political" as to soft pedal crooks? He doesn't.
The book is a good primer because it covers so many subjects, and because it describes the reasoning process. Sure there'll be the people who dispute his findings. But one will convince them of nothing. At least the reasoning process illustrated by this volume will convince those capable of reason.
The ONLY reason I don't give it 5 stars is that some of the samples he gave would be better illustrated on a stage or a show; it was a bit difficult for me to follow them in writing.
Aside from that, I think this should probably be required reading for, say, high school seniors, those particularly prone to the charlatans of silly New Age fads and other quackery. But anyone wondering about such fads could gain a great deal from Randi's prose.
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93 of 101 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 31, 1996
Format: Paperback
I saw a TV show about James Randi recently. In one scene, he visited a college classroom, posing as an expert astrologer. He had prepared, he told the class, detailed individual horoscopes based on each student's birthdate and birthplace. The students read these horoscopes, then rated their accuracy on a scale of 1-5. One student gave his horoscope a 4. Every other horoscope got a 5. The students were amazed: astrology worked! Randi then had them look at each other's horoscopes. Cries of outrage filled the room. All of the horoscopes were exactly the same. They had nothing whatsoever to do with birthdates, or birthplaces, or any particular student.
This book is full of such examples. Randi uses them, and scientific data, and consistently careful analysis of facts, to show that such ideas as astrology, biorhythms, transcendental meditation, UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, ESP, and psychic surgery are, quite simply, nonsense. In 1964, he offered $10,000 to anyone who could demonstrate a paranormal power under satisfactory observational conditions. As of the 1982 publication date, over 650 people had tried for the reward, none successfully. Some of the attempts are described in this book. Funny how psychics who have "demonstrated" the ability to bend metal rods by will power can't do it anymore when they are no longer allowed to wander out of the room with the rods during the experiment!
A theme throughout the book is that people who want to believe something will accept the most absurd rationalizations in order to continue to believe it, in spite of overwhelming contradictory evidence. At the beginning of his chapter on psychic surgery, Randi quotes William Cowper: "To follow foolish precedents, and wink / With both our eyes, is easier than to think.
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