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The Magician and the Cardsharp: The Search for America's Greatest Sleight-of-Hand Artist [Kindle Edition]

Karl Johnson
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $22.99
Kindle Price: $7.99
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Sold by: Macmillan
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Book Description

A famous magician's journey to find the greatest cardsharp ever evokes the forgotten world of magic where Americans found escape during the Great Depression

It has the nostalgic quality of an old-fashioned fable, but Karl Johnson's The Magician and the Cardsharp is a true story that lovingly re-creates the sparkle of a vanished world. Here, set against the backdrop of America struggling through the Depression, is the world of magic, a realm of stars, sleight of hand, and sin where dreams could be realized - or stolen away.

Following the Crash of '29, Dai Vernon, known by magicians as "the man who fooled Houdini," is tramping down Midwestern backroads, barely making ends meet. While swapping secrets with a Mexican gambler, he hears of a guy he doesn't quite believe is real - a legendary mystery man who deals perfectly from the center of the deck and who locals call the greatest cardsharp of all time. Determined to find the reclusive genius, Vernon sets out on a journey through America's shady, slick, and sinful side - from mob-run Kansas City through railroad towns that looked sleepy only in the daytime. Does he find the sharp?

Well, Karl Johnson did - after years of research into Vernon's colorful quest, research that led him to places he never knew existed. Johnson takes us to the cardsharp's doorstep and shows us how he bestowed on Vernon the greatest secret in magic. The Magician and the Cardsharp is a unique and endlessly entertaining piece of history that reveals the artistry and obsession of a special breed of American showmen.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This engrossing detective story traces the quest of Dai Vernon, né David Verner (1894–1992), to find the man who perfected the art of dealing from the center of the deck. An accomplished card cheat, sleight-of-hand magician and silhouette portraitist, Vernon was so expert at duplicitous card techniques that he once fooled Houdini with tricks he'd learned as a child from S.W. Erdnase's classic The Expert at the Card Table. Proficient at dealing from the top and bottom of the deck, he was astounded to learn that someone in the Midwest had the ability to win by dealing from the center. Johnson, a former editor at New York's Daily News, details Vernon's long search for Allen Kennedy (1865–1961), a cardsharp who plied his trade with loaded dice and deceitful deck handling. By recounting the shadowy careers of these two men, the author successfully evokes the picturesque world of illegal gambling during the 1920s, '30s and '40s. Johnson vividly conveys how obsessed Vernon was with magic and card tricks, and how much time, energy and practice gamblers put into learning how to cheat at cards.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

How does a kid from Ottawa, Ontario, get to Pleasant Hill, Missouri? With a deck of playing cards and an obsession with magic, of course. Johnson's fantastical tale concerns card cheating in general and, in particular, the search by Canadian Dai Vernon (1894-1992) for a legendary card player who dealt perfectly from the center of the deck. Johnson conveys the mores of the gambling world, in which Vernon considered himself primarily an entertainer. Vernon gravitated to New York and knocked about its carnivals, but following the stock market crash in 1929, he ended up in Wichita, Kansas, where he made a living cutting silhouettes but lived for mastering sleight of hand. There in 1932 he heard the center deal had been mastered by somebody in Missouri. One county down the railroad line from Kansas City, Pleasant Hill reflected its name--if you liked vice. Johnson's well-crafted unveiling of the town's character and the identity of the cardsharp inveigles as it entertains, rewarding readers hunting for an unusual topic. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 513 KB
  • Print Length: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (July 25, 2006)
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00AF693FM
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #574,086 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The True Story Told Finally and Faithfully December 15, 2005
We just finished reading The Magician and the Cardsharp by Karl Johnson and are blown away.

If you do not already have this book, get it. Mr. Johnson tells the story of Dai Vernon's hunt for the middle-deal with such excitement, detail, and interest; you would swear he was a magician.

He's not one of us but he is the next best thing; a career journalist who knows how to write a good detective story.

The story of Dai Vernon's pursuit of what many considered a myth - the center deal - is well-known to most magicians (or at least the ones as old as us).

Some magicians assumed Mr. Vernon fabricated the entire story. There is no such thing as undetectable middle-deal, they grumble. And even if there was, no card mechanic would or could ever use it in a real game.

Tony Giorgio's writings against the myth of the center deal has been addressed several times on the Inside Magic web site. We see no need to go into it again other than to suggest this book supports a loud "told you so."

It is difficult to write a book about magic. We've all read the horrible efforts of non-magicians who either describe effects impossible to perform, or expose effects we depend on for our sustenance.

Jim Steinmeyer's approach to writing about the history of our great art deserves praise. We don't believe he unnecessarily exposes magic secrets in his writings.

We thought his balance was perfect in his two latest books: the recently released The Glorious Deception: The Double Life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo, the "Marvelous Chinese Conjurer" and the incredible Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear.

Some may agree with us, some will not.

As much as we loved Mr.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Magician and the Cardsharp August 26, 2005
Dai Vernon,the "professor" of American magicians was famous for his single minded quests after diffcult and obscure card manipulations. This often took him into the seedy gambling dens of the early 20th century. The best card slights were done by cardsharpers whose income and somtimes life depended on a flawless performance. This true life tale concerns Vernon's search for the holy grail of card moves-the middle deal.Johnson has done a wonderful job of reseach and wrapped it in breezy narrative which makes it hard to put down. If you would like a glimpse into an otherwise closed fraternity of unusually gifted men this is your chance.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Story About Close Up Magic September 7, 2005
Story of the life of one of greatest magicans of the twentieth century.He is not as well known as the stage magicans of this era but most who study magic believe the true art is displayed in close up. Vernon was considered by many to be the best. He was a perfectionist and the book covers this well. It is also a story that covers mid western depression era gambling and associated scams, in Vernon's search for the perfect card slieght. The book is extremely well written and researched.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Transport You Back to Another America - Amazing Research February 12, 2006
For budding and practicing magicians who love history about their art - hard to go wrong in reading and absorbing this book throughly.

For general readers (like myself) - you can appreciate this book two ways, it's an amazing transport back to another America. Back to a time of riverboat gamblers, railroad card sharps, prohibitions, etc, etc ... and the author's journey in tracing and tracking the whereabouts of a near mythical card trick. You learn about an amazing sub-culture that most of us were vaguely aware of and you learn about the daily lives of magicians and card sharps back in the day.

The other thing you learn to really appreciate and marvel at is that in case you thought non-fiction writers were all lazy (or liars these days :-), Karl Johnson proves them wrong. He literally leaves no stone unturned. If someone remarks that he met so and so on a rainy day. Karl went back and unearthed the meteorological from at least two newspaper to verify if that memory rings true ... and by doing so, he paints a very detailed picture of these small towns (and some not so small) and life in America in the years prior to WWII.

So, even if you're just mildly interested in card tricks or magic, the author has woven a very intricate journey of an interesting subculture and portraits of daily small town America in the 1920's and 1930's that's interesting in itself. Afterwards, you almost feel the need to dust yourself off from the Kansas winds ...

The only people who might be disappointed in this book are people who are looking for card trick tips how to. This is not that kind of book - this book literally shows you that the journey is the reward.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This is the story of how one of the century's greatest magicians tracked down a gambler who could do what most slight-of-hand artists only dreamed about: deal cards from the center of the deck. This move, the "holy grail" of card manipulation is really just little more than the MacGuffin in this intriguing page-turner of a story.

Even if you are not the slightest bit interested in magic, card tricks or gambling, this is a fascinating read.

You will be transported to the first third of the 20th century into a story full of memorable and colorful characters. Johnson's attention to detail and the thoroughness of his investigation is nothing short of miraculous.

One of the most purely entertaining books I've read in quite some time.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read even for the casual fan
While I am not particularly interested in magic, I found this book to be fascinating. I can't remember when I've met a more colorful cast of characters in a non-fiction book. Read more
Published 3 months ago by A. K. Berg
5.0 out of 5 stars Takes you back to the 20's and 30's when card games were at every...
Excellent read about small town gamblers and their tricks. It happens to be about a man from our town of Pleasant Hill, Missouri who had mastered the "center deal" and is... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Beverly Kennedy
5.0 out of 5 stars Dai Vernon's Quest for Excellence
This book works on so many levels - as a partial biography of the great Dai Vernon, as a portrayal of an America during the railroad age, as a history of magic during the era, as... Read more
Published 14 months ago by J. Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars An interesting tale, well worth your time!
If you find cheating at cards and/or card magic to be interesting, then you may very well enjoy this tale centering on two greats in their respective fields. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Matthew Senne
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, great story
This is the best story of Dia Vernon and his quest for the middle deal. Great read if you are interested in card magic history and the 30ies.
Published on May 3, 2013 by JD Steven Richard
5.0 out of 5 stars Great history
If you're interested in the history of magic and the life of Dai Vernon, this is an excellent read. Essentially a biography of "The Professor" with a fascinating... Read more
Published on January 13, 2013 by J. Walker
5.0 out of 5 stars This is just a great story that is well written.
I purchased this book to learn a little more about Dai Vernon and I ended up being drawn into a world of the 20's and 30's. It was great fun and a very interesting ride. Read more
Published on July 6, 2012 by Mike Pierce
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting story about an interesting man, reads like a novel
Magic and magicians have fascinated me since a young age. I remember learning about this magician, Dai Vernon, who was considered the greatest magician of the 20th century. Read more
Published on December 15, 2009 by Andy Wallace
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and informative
Dai Vernon, a towering figure in the history magic, probably influenced card magic more than The Beatles influenced music. Read more
Published on July 25, 2009 by Richard Gary
5.0 out of 5 stars The Erdnase of books on Magic History
Prof.Dai Vernon was Sleight-of-Hand's Superman. This book is about Superman's search for a man who could do something that even he could not - deal off the center of a a pack of... Read more
Published on August 19, 2008 by Jai Iyer
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