75 of 91 people found the following review helpful
Not As Good As You'd Expect,
This review is from: Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind (Hardcover)
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This is a book that can't decide what it wants to be. Is it an autobiography? A history of magic? A peek into the lives of magicians and their world? A textbook on street scams? Pop psychology? What?
The book is a little bit of all of those things, but not in a satisfying way. An early chapter starts off with an interesting scenario (the author is taking a "master class" in magic) and devolves into an excruciatingly detailed and boring description of the house, the teacher and the fellow students, none of whom you will ever encounter again. By the time the description is done, so is the chapter. At one point the author promises to tell us about a trip to Vegas. I thought "Now it should get good." No luck, three pages later the trip was over and done and nothing much happened.
The author specializes in close-up magic, which uses cards, coins, cups, ropes and is done, as the author puts it, "right under your nose." The book therefore focuses on this genre, and there is comparatively little time spent on stage magic. If you are looking for backstage gossip or interesting facts about stage magicians, famous or otherwise, there's not much of it.
There is more than you'll ever need to know on scams, specifically three card monte and the shell game. If you're like most people, you've heard of these and know basically how they work. The author also mentioned something called the "fast and loose" which I had never heard of. I was looking forward to an explanation, but the author merely said it "survives only in print." I had to Google the term to find out any more about it.
The author spent some time, as basically an onlooker, with an professor involved in research on human cognition. What you get, sprinkled throughout the book, is an overview of the field from the point of view of an amateur. If you've read any books by Oliver Sacks or Steven Pinker, you've read most of this, better and more entertainingly told by a true expert.
In summary, the book was not terrible, but it was ultimately disappointing. I had hoped to devour every word, but found myself skimming chapters quite often.