Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.97 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind Paperback – June 11, 2013
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
“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)
“Alex Stone’s Fooling Houdini is a delight. In the physics Ph.D program at Columbia, he drops everything to pursue the murky world of magic. He writes with wit and scientific sharpness and grand humor. He immerses us in a fascinating world few have ever entered.” (Buzz Bissinger, author of Father's Day and Friday Night Lights)
“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")
“Fooling Houdini is a totally smart and engrossing study of one of America’s most misunderstood sub-cultures, and at the same time the story of one man’s quest to probe the mysteries of magic, science, and where the two meet.” (John Hodgman, author of The Areas of My Expertise)
“Fooling Houdini is 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 couldn’t put it down!” (Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics)
“In a memoir studded with historical factoids, charming anecdotes and a variety of behind-the-curtain insider secrets to classic magic tricks, stone serves as a winsome tour guide. . . . There’s plenty of eye-opening knowledge on display. . . . Magically engrossing.” (Kirkus)
“Part insider’s look at the high-stakes world of casinos and cardsharps, part scientific examination of deception, this page-turner gives an intriguing peek behind the magician’s curtain.” (Discover)
“A hilarious and illuminating memoir. . . . Less a how-to guide, and more about the bizarre-personalities, the infighting and the jaw-dropping dedication and dexterity required to be a truly great magician.” (The New York Post)
“A cheery, inquisitive book about a world where math, physics, cognitive science and pure geeky fanaticism intersect. . . . This book is more than a series of anecdotes. It’s an effort to explore the colorful subculture of magic devotees and the serious, theoretical basis for the tricks they do.” (Janet Maslin, The New York Times)
“The narrative is compelling because it comes veined with a very human question: What is truth? That may sound too philosophical for such a fun memoir, but when Stone invokes this question it comes across as pitch perfect.” (The Boston Globe)
From the Back Cover
When Alex Stone was five years old, his father bought him a magic kit. Years later, in New York City, he plunged headlong into a vibrant underground magic scene populated by a fascinating cast of characters: from his gruff mentor, who holds court in a rundown pizza shop, to one of the world's greatest card cheats, who also happens to be blind. As he navigates this quirky and occasionally hilarious subculture, Stone pulls back the curtain on a secretive community organized around a single need: to prove one's worth by deceiving others. In trying to understand how magic fools us, Stone uncovers a wealth of insights into human nature and the nature of perception. Through his investigation of the lesser-known corners of psychology, neuroscience, history, mathematics, 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.
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Stone was a science writer turned Physics graduate student, and so the science of magic and mentalism comes out frequently. However, this book is distinct from one such as “Sleights of Mind” by Macknik & Martinez-Conde, which is focused entirely upon conveying the science of how magic tricks work (primarily neuroscience with a focus on how the sense organs and brain interact to a magician’s advantage.) In truth, I expected this book to more along the lines of “Sleights of Mind.” However, in a way, it’s a good thing that it wasn’t. Stone reviews the science that Macknik and Martinez-Conde drill down into enough so that it’s a good review if one has read that book (I had) or an introduction if one hasn’t. What Stone does a great deal more of is describing the perfection one’s craft. Along the way he shows us a blind card handler with a preternatural capacity for tactile control of the deck, he takes us to clown college to improve showmanship, and he meets up with some street hustlers of the 3-card monte variety.
Throughout the course of the book are ups and downs that maintain the tension. In fact, one chapter is actually entitled “It’s Annoying and I Asked You to Stop,” about the inevitable point at which a magician’s obsession with improving his/her skills stops being cute to loved ones. There is also a chapter about Stone’s [almost] being blackballed from the magic community for revealing secrets in a general readership magazine (I guess that’s a muggle-mag?) An important part of the story is Stone’s search for a Yoda, a wizened member of the magic community who can give him the deeper insight needed to fool a room of experts. He eventually finds said individual, but is not quickly adopted. (It has a hero’s journey feel through this part.)
I thought that the author did a good job of building an interesting story arc within a work of nonfiction. This increases the book’s readability, particular if one has no particular interest in magic. One need not be knowledgeable about the discipline to find the story interesting and to learn some fascinating tidbits. If nothing else, one will learn how con men cull marks, so one can avoid falling prey to their potent psychology (though I expect the subset of readers of books and those tricked into gambling 3-card monte is probably not huge.)
One area in which a reader might be dissatisfied is in the coverage given to mentalism and math-based tricks. The alliterative subtitle makes reference to “magicians, mentalists, and math geeks…” but the bulk of the book is about close-up magic; mentalism and mathematical methods don’t come in until the last few chapters. If you’re expecting that the coverage of those topics will be on par with that of close-up magic, this may not be the book for you. Still, while this was different than I expected, it didn’t hurt my impression of the book.
I enjoyed this book, and received some intriguing insights from it. I’d recommend it for those interested in magic and in particular the craft and science of it. Even if you aren’t that interested in magic, you might find the story of one man’s development of his discipline to be worth reading.
I gained a lot of respect for magicians/illusionists from reading this. They are skilled at making their tricks look effortless but Stone does a good job of describing just how much skill and practice is involved.
Read this and you'll not only learn how some card tricks are done but you'll learn about the subculture of magicians and how they judge each other, con games, scam artists, mentalists, the mathematical basis for some card tricks, how illusions take advantage of gaps in our perceptions, psychology, physics as well as other topics.
He covers finger fitness, embodied cognition, inattentional blindness (which magicians exploit and you experience when driving while talking on your cell phone), brain blindness and its role in motorcycle accidents, false memories, change blindness, cold readings (psychics), audience management and much more. This all gets related back to magic.
The best non-fiction book I've read in a while.
I loved the explanation Alex gives of how 3-card Monte and shell games work. The secret is that it is the greed and deceitfulness of the mark that leads him to be so easily tricked. This explains why and how all scams and cons work. The con man convinces the mark that the mark is on on a secret to some easy money, maybe even some dishonest money, and then the cage snaps shut. This is also how Madoff and every Ponzi scheme actually works. A Ponzi "victim" knew damn well that the gain they were making was not really legitimate, that they were getting something for nothing, but they are pulled in and become complicit in the scam, and thus are motivated to keep it going. To me, this is an important insight.
The autobiographical bits in here may not be the most elegant method for connecting all his points together, and the author does come off as pretty much of a jerk, but I thought they did the job. I liked it better than simply a series of disconnected chapters.
I still can't imagine how a magician can make the Statue of Liberty disappear, but I know that it is along the same lines as how I can look at a video of an 800 pound gorilla and miss seeing it!
Our brains are both our strength and our greatest weakness, and this book gave me a new angle on seeing that.