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Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind [Kindle Edition]

Alex Stone
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (193 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $14.99
Kindle Price: $9.78
You Save: $5.21 (35%)
Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers


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Book Description

From the back rooms of New York City’s age-old magic societies to cutting-edge psychology labs, three-card monte games on Canal Street to glossy Las Vegas casinos, Fooling Houdini recounts Alex Stone’s quest to join the ranks of master magicians.

As he navigates this quirky and occasionally hilarious subculture populated by brilliant eccentrics, Stone pulls back the curtain on a community shrouded in secrecy, fueled by obsession and brilliance, and organized around one overriding need: to prove one’s worth by deceiving others.

But his journey is more than a tale of tricks, gigs, and geeks. By investing some of the lesser-known corners of psychology, neuroscience, physics, history, and even crime, all through the lens of trickery and illusion, Fooling Houdini arrives at a host of startling revelations about how the mind works--and why, sometimes, it doesn’t.

Editorial Reviews Review

Before reading this book, I thought magic was a little inane. The magicians of my memory wore capes and makeup; they pulled doves from their hats and deployed a lot of smoke. But in Fooling Houdini, Alex Stone reveals a world far deeper and more fascinating than I ever imagined. After failing at the Magic Olympics in Stockholm, Stone gets serious about the art of illusion: He attends magic schools and seeks out one of the best "card mechanics" in the world. Along the way, he learns how criminal empires were built on age-old magic scams. He studies the art of mind reading. And he explains how magicians exploit cognitive blind spots to make the impossible happen in public. He pursues every dark nook of the magic world in pursuit of the ultimate goal--a routine so mindboggling that it will fool other master magicians. Does he succeed? I'd tell you the answer, but that would ruin the magic. --Ben Moebius

Review - Best 100 Books of 2012

“With many fascinating anecdotes up his sleeve, Stone conjures an entertaining book.”
Publishers Weekly
“Magically engrossing.”
Kirkus Reviews
“Stone's engaging journey into his amateur magic career is as enlightening as it is disturbing. Not only does he reveal closely guarded secrets hoarded, in some cases, for thousands of years but he tears open the psyche of the archetypal magician. It mirrors too closely the geekiness, brilliance and single-mindedness illusionists seek to hide, even from themselves.”
Winnipeg Free Press
“If you're not that interested in the secretive world of magic, just disappear. But if you're fascinated by odd little corners of society, Fooling Houdini is not only informative, but highly entertaining. Stone has pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat.”
USA Today

“An eye-opening, irresistible journey into the world of magic.  Stone has written a masterful story that is bursting with energy, inventiveness, and a sense of wonder on every page.  I don't even like magic, but I couldn't put Fooling Houdini down!”
—Steven Levitt, author of Freakonomics
“An enthralling journey into the inner world of magic. Alex Stone writes with a winning voice that you’ll want to follow anywhere.”
—Joshua Foer, author of Moonwalking with Einstein
Fooling Houdini is a totally smart and engrossing study of one of America’s most misunderstood sub-cultures.”
—John Hodgman, author of That Is All

“What I loved most about Fooling Houdini is the world it takes us into: these huddled cliques of obsessed magicians reinventing their art. . . . This book makes you want to do magic tricks, and convinces you just how hard it is to do them well.”
—Ira Glass, host of This American Life

“The story of Fooling Houdini is simply wonderful—as good as a novel, I think—and yet all true. . . . Stone is an engaging writer, but he wisely spends his energy, not on trying to dazzle us with his writing, but telling us the truth as clearly as possible.”
—Orson Scott Card for Rhino Times

“Alex Stone’s Fooling Houdini is a delight. . . . He writes with wit and scientific sharpness and grand humor. He immerses us in a fascinating world few have ever entered.”
—Buzz Bissinger, author Friday Night Lights

Product Details

  • File Size: 521 KB
  • Print Length: 321 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0385667574
  • Publisher: Harper; Reprint edition (June 19, 2012)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006O37LI6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,037 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
81 of 84 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Like almost everyone, I've always had a somewhat casual admiration for magicians and their ability to make us believe things that we know can't be so--and yet we're seeing them without own eyes (or so we think). I love to see a good trick and I love to be fooled. And I've always believed that most magic tricks work largely because of the good hand skills of the magician and/or a clever amount of misdirection--and both of those are true. Until I read this book, however, I had no idea just how much of the misdirection and trickery was coming from my own mind. Alex Stone has written a fascinating book about just how much of the power of magic--whether it's a close-up coin trick or an ambitious illusion--relies on our own psychological/neurological foibles. We trick ourselves as much or more so than the magician does.

Stone starts off the book by telling the tale of his attempt to win honor and glory at the Magic Olympics (the pinnacle of magic competitions) and the various changes in his personal life that, along with a lifelong infatuation with magic (blame his father) eventually led him to all but abandon his "normal" life and pursue a strange and somewhat obsessed journey to the center of the magic mind. Along the way he spends time with some of the great legends of magic (a lot of them regularly hanging out in a pizza joint in NYC on Saturday afternoons), a handful of grifters, three-card monte ne'er-do-wells, a stellar and legally blind card mechanic (Richard Turner--whose abilities are legendary and will absolutely challenge your thoughts about blindness) and psychologists. Each of these characters helps add to his growing understanding of just how much the person being fooled is as much a part of the fooling as the magician.
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65 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Hidden World... April 15, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Before I read this book, I had absolutely no idea that there was an entire "world of magic" that I didn't know about. My knowledge of magicians was pretty much limited to what I had seen at children's birthday parties and talent shows. Alex Stone shows you how there is so much more than that - there are schools, societies, meeting spots, ceremonies, competitions, and an entire segment of the population that is completely devoted to magic.

Stone makes the reader like him right away, as he describes the embarrassment of completely failing a competition. From there, we see him rebound as he comes back to the magic world, while pursuing an advanced degree at Columbia, and dedicate himself to improving his magic skills. He's able to describe different tricks to us without giving away secrets and impress up on the reader just how difficult it can be to learn some of these tricks. Stone also describes some of the ways that magicians use their skills in the business world, such as the magician who is almost entirely blind but whose sense of touch is so highly developed that he works as a "touch consultant" for a major card company.

More than just describing magic tricks, however, Stone also writes about how the human brain/psychology works and can be manipulated. We see how con games are so successful and why people are fascinated by magic. Additionally, Stone's writing style is excellent - the book is perfectly paced and the personal stories are woven in wonderfully with the history and technical descriptions. Highly recommended for just about anybody.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A map of the path to magicianship June 25, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Alex Stone is a former Discover magazine editor, a former Columbia Physics PhD student and a nut for the world of magic. This memoir recounts his experiences in the magic world, including his humiliating 'red light' performance at the Magic Olympics, his discipleship with Wes James (himself a disciple of the legendary Dai Vernon), encounters with Three Card Monte gangs in New York, the furor over an article he published in Harper's which exposed the secrets behind some tricks, and his journey from close-up trickster to mentalist to master.

The title, "Fooling Houdini" comes from an anecdote about Dai Vernon, who managed to fool Houdini eight times with a trick called The Ambitious Card. Now the trick is standard, and every magician has their own personalized version of it.

Stone writes with clarity, drawing connections between magic, psychology, neuroscience and even economics, arguing that the greatest eras of innovation in magic tricks were the eras when the tricks were regularly exposed, forcing the constant invention of new tricks and sparking clever variations from other magicians once they knew the secrets.


Anyone interested in the backstage world of magic, their societies and the secret clavens within those societies. Magician's magicians. People who are interested in the intersection of science and the techniques of magicians.


People who already know everything there is to know about magic, or who feel they enjoy magic the less they know about the art. People hoping to learn specific tricks.


I enjoyed it all the way through. Stone draws back the curtain on the magic world, revealing colorful characters and throwing in anecdotes from the history of conjuring as well as related scientific research. Highly recommended.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
I learned a great deal.
Published 1 day ago by Lorna Hoover
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Just a great story about a mans search to learn it all.
Published 11 days ago by Fredde Lieberman
5.0 out of 5 stars a good read
A lovely look at magic for the layman. It shows us the interweaving of the many science disciplines with the arts used to produce the best of magic "tricks. Read more
Published 17 days ago by Tres
3.0 out of 5 stars An ok read
I thought this was an ok book. It is written by a man that had always wanted to be a magician and it tells of his struggle to become a good one. Read more
Published 20 days ago by B.J.S.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 21 days ago by Philip Reidel
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Thoroughly entertaining and engaging even for someone like me with no real knowledge of or interest in magic.
Published 24 days ago by Rahul Roy-Chowdhury
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A science, math magic geek that can wrte is rare indeed.
Published 28 days ago by George F. Smeller
5.0 out of 5 stars ... turn you into the next Houdini but it's a great read.
It won't turn you into the next Houdini but it's a great read..
Published 1 month ago by David
5.0 out of 5 stars You will enjoy this book!
Enjoyable read filled with the rich history of magic. Well researched. Mr. Stone weaves this history into his own fascination/obsession with the art.
Published 1 month ago by sally
5.0 out of 5 stars Purchased as a gift
My 19 year old son loved this book. He said it was very insightful and a rare breed of writing. Being a fan of magic tricks, I thought he would like the book, turns out the book... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Donna Barton
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More About the Author

Alex Stone has written for The New York Times, Harper's, Discover, and The Wall Street Journal. He graduated from Harvard University and has a master's degree in physics from Columbia University. He grew up in Wisconsin, Texas, and Spain. He currently lives in New York City.

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