Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind

Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind

3.3 21
by Alex Stone
     
 

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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

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Overview

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

Publishers Weekly
Entranced by magic tricks at age five, science journalist Stone argues that stage magic “lets us suspend adulthood and retrieve... the childlike sense of astonishment that fades as we age.” Having taken “an almost perverse joy in stupefying illustrious faculty” at Columbia, where he received a master’s in physics, Stone began to discover “connections between magic and science,” and this book explores those linkages in depth. Beginning in Stockholm with the 2006 World Championship of Magic, he attended a Society of American Magicians initiation and visited Tannen’s, the New York City store where magicians share secrets. Seeking formal training, Stone arrived in Vegas for classes at the Magic and Mystery School, returning to New York for intense sessions with a sleight-of-hand expert in false shuffles and card cheats. Along with magic history, he covers con games and grifters, finger fitness, studies in attention and perception, the psychology of touching, and tactile card skills of the legally blind. Stone also details how he made enemies when he violated the magician’s code of secrecy by revealing tricks in a Harper’s article. With many fascinating anecdotes up his sleeve, Stone conjures an entertaining book. Agent: Elyse Cheney, Cheney Literary. (June)
(UK) - Reader's Digest
"A fascinating ramble around a subject that, Stone convincingly argues, raises all sorts of big questions about how our brains interpret the world."
Library Journal
Most people enjoy a good magic show, and although the audience knows that the illusions aren't real, who doesn't love being fooled? In this well-written memoir, freelance writer Stone takes readers inside the world of magic and magicians as well as his own struggles to achieve mastery of the discipline and to find his own voice within its culture. He takes side excursions into modern theories of cognition to demonstrate the interplay of magic and psychology. Without revealing the secrets of the craft, he explains how the performer can seem to work miracles without his sleight of hand being detected. As with most legitimate writers on these matters, he is quick to expose those charlatans, mentalists, and crooked card players who use magicians' techniques to fleece the gullible. However, his emphasis is on the amount of effort required to make everything look effortless, which is the essence of the art. VERDICT An engrossing work on a popular topic for magic lovers; recommended.—Harold D. Shane, formerly with Baruch Coll., CUNY
Kirkus Reviews
A physics scholar explores how the combination of science, magic and real life stirred his inner magician. Stone begins his kaleidoscopic tour through the world of illusion at the 2006 World Championships of Magic in Stockholm, where be beheld tricks of the trade that soon became more life altering than spectacle. A self-described "nerdy and unsocialized" only child, the author was 5 when his father, an eccentric geneticist, gave him a magic kit from F.A.O. Schwarz, which provided him a real-world escape and a perpetual fascination. 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 through several wizardly institutions where he gleaned a magical education. After a disastrously amateurish onstage flop, meetings at the Society of American Magicians restored the author's wounded confidence, as did time at a magic school in Las Vegas, an instructional apprenticeship with master illusionist Wesley James, shadowing Manhattan's Canal Street hustlers, and even a stint at clown school. He enthusiastically describes the delicate mechanics of wristwatch stealing, cardsharping and finger calisthenics. Stone's first attempt at exposing trade secrets (an unspoken industry no-no) appeared in a 2008 Harper's article that drew vehement criticism and practically shunned the author from the magical community altogether. Juicy bits aside, there's plenty of eye-opening knowledge on display for those inclined to discover what lies behind the curtain. Magically engrossing.
The New York Times
…[a] cheery, inquisitive book about a world where math, physics, cognitive science and pure geeky fanaticism intersect. While it nominally describes the author's efforts to improve his sleight of hand and regain his self-respect, Fooling Houdini 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 Washington Post
…Houdini would surely have admired the scientific rigor that Stone brings to the elusive art of magic…He's at his best in a lab coat and goggles, looking at magic from a physicist's point of view.
—Daniel Stashower
Discover
“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.”
The New York Post
“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 Boston Globe
“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.”
USA Today
Fooling Houdini is not only informative, but highly entertaining. Stone has pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat.”
The Daily Beast
“An affable new book. . . . What differentiates Fooling Houdini is Stone’s determination to understand the science behind his craft.”
The Sunday Times (London)
“This book is clever and winning—and well written, too. In turning our attention away from the magic and towards the magicians, Stone has pulled off an excellent trick.”
The Financial Times
“The book treats magic more as science than superstition, and here Stone’s point is well made. . . . As he shows us the limits of our logic, Stone’s enthusiasm rubs off.”
Reader's Digest (UK)
“A fascinating ramble around a subject that, Stone convincingly argues, raises all sorts of big questions about how our brains interpret the world.”
Bob Schieffer
“The funniest book I read all year.”
Joshua Foer
“An enthralling journey into the inner world of magic. Alex Stone writes with a winning voice that you’ll want to follow anywhere.”
Buzz Bissinger
“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.”
Ira Glass
“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.”
John Hodgman
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.”
Steven Levitt
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!”
Janet Maslin
“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.”
Molly Ringwald
“I’ve always been intrigued by secret societies and artistic subcultures. Stone opens up the obsessive and hidden world of magicians with intelligence and sly humor.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061766213
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
06/19/2012
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
900,810
Product dimensions:
6.38(w) x 9.08(h) x 1.10(d)

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