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Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear Paperback – September 15, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
The success of a magician "lies in making a human connection to the magic." Create an illusion in the audience's mind, and they're hooked. But to understand magicians, we need to understand the art of that creation. Steinmeyer, who has designed illusions for Siegfried and Roy and David Copperfield, presents a cultural history of magic's golden age (from the 1890s to the 1930s), some legendary tricks (including the Levitation of Princess Karnak and Harry Houdini's Disappearing Elephant) and the fierce rivalries that dominated the craft. Steinmeyer reveals certain secrets, which rely on engineering, artistry and sheer chutzpah, but he hasn't betrayed anyone; most of his information has been published elsewhere. What he adds is context. Magicians advertise deceit, then perform it. Unlike political chicanery, which Steinmeyer dubs dishonest trickery, magic is a kind of pure trickery. Audiences pay for a ruse, not a lecture on fraud. Do we believe movie special effects are real? Of course not, but it doesn't detract from our enjoyment. Similarly, while many 19th-century spiritualists were rightfully debunked as frauds and charlatans, audiences loved the antics. Some, such as the Davenport brothers, were a magnet of controversy and a wild hit, successfully mixing "religion, agnosticism, science, superstition, and fraud." Steinmeyer diagrams famous tricks, celebrating their science and ingenuity. Readers meet characters as colorful as their acts. Buyer beware: If you want to keep your illusions, go to Las Vegas. But for magic lovers who revel in learning the magician's art, this book part research study, part salute is a find. 8 pages of b&w photos and diagrams.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Writing a history of stage magic, Steinmeyer reveals the secrets of such famous feats as hiding an elephant, one of Houdini's big tricks, as he details notable stage magicians' careers. He shows that this venerable entertainment genre is indubitably more illusion, performed by monumentally clever practitioners, than magic. Brother-and-sister mind-reading act Charles and Lilian Morritt perfected a silent code based on synchronized counting that defied cagey observers' abilities to detect, let alone understand. Charles went on to realize the sleight central to Houdini's disappearing elephant bit, and that is just one of the delicious connections Steinmeyer points out among performers who seem to constitute a fellowship. Complementing Steinmeyer's profiles are excellent portraits of his subjects by underground-comix stalwart William Stout. Delightful and informative. Mike Tribby
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book's title, "Hiding The Elephant", is based on the infamous 1918 illusion that Harry Houdini did on the stage at the New York Hippodrome, when he caused "Jennie The Elephant" to vanish into thin air. Or, did he ? That's what this book is all about, and the well-known term "Smoke & Mirrors" comes into play throughout the books 362 Pages, proving that "the hand may be quicker than the eye", but it's deception, and, misdirection that makes the trick - or, illusion - work.
Steinmeyer takes a chronological look at the history of these, sometimes, seemingly impossible vanishing illusions, as well as the tricks used by those who caused disembodied heads to appear, ghosts to float, ladies to be sawed-in-half...and, donkeys, cars, and, elephants, and almost anything else you can name, to disappear.
THE NAMES OF THOSE chronicled within the book are some of the most-famous of all-time: Kellar, Herrmann, Dante, Houdini, Bamberg, the Davenport Brothers, Robert-Houdin, Thurston, the Maskelynes', Goldin...well, you get the picture. But I was a little upset that Blackstone, as well as "Carter The Great" weren't profiled in here. Both had superb careers, and Blackstone was one of Houdini's greatest rivals, and in-reality a better magician & illusionist than Houdini, who excelled more as an escape artist than as a magician.
Speaking of "rivalry", this is the part of the book that I hadn't fully known about. I didn't realize the backstabbing, the belittling, the thievery that went on behind-the-scenes of these legendary icons...with almost all of those mentioned, taking part in those activities. Page-after-page stories of tricks, illusions, designs of apparatus, and, sometimes actual items, being stolen by one illusionist/magician from the other ! I was shocked at this new light that was shed on a profession I have loved, followed, and, at one time, participated-in myself...it gave me new insight and soured me on those who took part in any of the above-mentioned callous deeds.
As the well-known magician/actor/writer, Ricky Jay states, Steinmeyer's book is "An enthralling history of great illusionists that reveals not only how magicians act but how they think."
"HIDING THE ELEPHANT", by Jim Steinmeyer, has 362 Pages that contain 16 Chapters, 65 Illustrations, 8 Pages of rare photos, and, a great section on Acknowledgements & Notes. In reading it, prepare yourself for a look back at Magic's History going from the 1800's-to-today, and learn, as I did, that in the World of Magic not everything is as it seems: On Stage, OR, Off.
Although the book does reveal some of the workings of some older illusions, there are no "Masked Magician" or William Poundstone style exposures for exposure's sake here. None of the revelations are gratuitous; they're necessary to appreciate the story.
Steinmeyer is not only a master illusion designer and builder but a true scholar of his art and a very good writer. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I bet you will too.
I do want to mention, however, that the Kindle edition's selected typeface makes it difficult to read. Normally, I can read a book without glasses by simply enlarging the font. For this title, however, I needed to enlarge the typeface several times to ensure that it was large enough to read without glasses. This was clearly a problem with the typeface selected for this title.
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