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

( 19 )

Overview

When Alex Stone was five years old, his father bought him a magic kit—a gift that would spark a lifelong love. Years later, while living in New York City, he discovered a vibrant underground magic scene exploding with creativity and innovation and populated by a fascinating cast of characters: from his gruff mentor, who holds court in the back of a rundown pizza shop, to one of the world's greatest card cheats, who also happens to be blind. Captivated, he plunged headlong into this mysterious world, eventually ...

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

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Overview

When Alex Stone was five years old, his father bought him a magic kit—a gift that would spark a lifelong love. Years later, while living in New York City, he discovered a vibrant underground magic scene exploding with creativity and innovation and populated by a fascinating cast of characters: from his gruff mentor, who holds court in the back of a rundown pizza shop, to one of the world's greatest card cheats, who also happens to be blind. Captivated, he plunged headlong into this mysterious world, eventually competing at the Magic Olympics and training with great magicians around the globe to perfect his craft.

From the back rooms of New York City's century-old magic societies to cutting-edge psychology labs; three-card monte on Canal Street to glossy Las Vegas casinos; Fooling Houdini recounts Stone's quest to join the ranks of master magicians. As he navigates this quirky and occasionally hilarious subculture, Stone pulls back the curtain on a community shrouded in secrecy, fueled by obsession and brilliance, and organized around a single overriding need: to prove one's worth by deceiving others.

But his journey is more than a tale of tricks, gigs, and geeks. In trying to understand how expert magicians manipulate our minds to create their astonishing illusions, Stone uncovers a wealth of insight into human nature and the nature of perception. Every turn leads to questions about how the mind perceives the world and processes everyday experiences. By investigating 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

If we know that it's a trick, why do watch? Logically, we do so to uncover the deception, but according to Fooling Houdini author Alex Stone, there are deeper reasons too. To discover connections magic and science and to learn more about his own fascination, he traveled the world, observing the skills of master magicians, sleight-of-hand experts, and street variety card cheats. Navigating this bizarre, secretive subculture of intentional misdirection, he gains valuable lessons in both neuroscience and human chicanery. (P.S. Stone is both a talented journalist and a brilliant scientist: This Harvard graduate holds a masters degree in physics from Columbia University.)

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
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
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)
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.”
(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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061766220
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/11/2013
  • Pages: 301
  • Sales rank: 177,201
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Alex Stone

Alex Stone has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Discover, Harper's, and The New Republic. He lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents

1 The Magic Olympics 1

2 Mystery School 21

3 Miracles on Thirty-fourth Street 45

4 The Touch Analyst 71

5 The Hype 99

6 Breaking the Code 133

7 It's Annoying and I Asked You to stop 159

8 How to Steal a Watch 177

9 The Mentalists 207

10 Clowning Around 231

11 The Perfect Shuffle 249

12 Flight Time 283

Magic Terminology 293

Acknowledgements 299

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 19 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2012

    Fascinating Read! And it's not what you think it's going to be.

    Alex Stone has written a book that not only takes us through the realm of magic, but through advanced mathematics (and physics) as well. The history is intriguing, the story of his fascination with becoming a magician is beguiling, and I found the book to be impossible to put down. Which actually is a bit odd, because I have no attraction for mathematics whatsover (could never understand it) and couldn't fathom physics ever in my lifetime. I saw him on Fox TV NY yesterday discussing his book, and it sounded interesting. So I purchased it as a Nook book, and read it today
    There were so many interesting facts, ideas and stories about his life with magic that I was riveted. Loved the book.m.

    13 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2012

    Wonderful read....

    In all actuality, the math is in there, but the book is so well written you dont always notice it... i just wish he would have given instrictions on some of the tricks.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 22, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Alex Stone has written for The New York Times, Harper's, Discove

    Alex Stone has written for The New York Times, Harper's, Discover, and The Wall Street Journal. Alex graduated from Harvard University and has a master's degree in physics from Columbia University. He grew up in Wisconsin, Texas, and Spain; and he currently lives in New York City.

    Stone's book is the classic story of a physics major who drops out of college to study magic.  His first attempt at greatness was competing in the Stockholm "Magic Olympics," but to his chagrin he was kicked out for breaking the rules. This drove Stone more passionately into the art.

    What makes good magic? Is it a series of tricks strung together? Or is there something more? Stone takes the reader through this journey of exploration by discussing how magic effects the mind, while at the same time working closely with some of the best and brightest in the field.

    I think this book is a wonderful insight behind the veil of magic. Anyone who is interested in Magic either as a layman or a professional should read this book. But don't expect to find any gems or secrets revealed (first rule of magic: never reveal how an effect is done). Rather this book is an insight into how effects work - what makes them appear "magical." The book is more the "story" of the author's journey than it is a reference book.

    Stone has a wonderful voice and this is a terrific read.

    Thank you to Harper Publishing for this free review copy

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 29, 2012

    enjoyed being entertained & educated about the history &

    enjoyed being entertained & educated about the history & secret life of magic even today....there is MATH, but tis skippable & not very important for general reading purposes!!!!!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2014

    To below

    Let me guess. The Nevermore series? If so, it's coming out this October. I CAN'T F-ING WAIT!!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2014

    To Waiting

    I bet i have to wait some 3 years before the third book in my all time favorite series comes out. I doubt a few months is nearly as bad. Also, this book was great! Well worth reading- though not on Nook. Get the paperback version.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 22, 2014

    Probably one of the best books I've read in a long time.  I most

    Probably one of the best books I've read in a long time.  I mostly read fiction, but the story in Fooling Houdini kept me as riveted as a good mystery novel.  Partly that's because the particular topics align really well with my interests (magic, science, math), but it's also just a really well written and well structured book.  It has a really nice story arc, and it's populated with vivid characters.  For a physics grad student/amateur magician, Alex Stone writes astoundingly well.  I highly recommend this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2013

    This book sucks

    This book sucks save money and time

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2013

    Awsome

    One of the best books ive ever read if read thouroly can learn how to steal a watch

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2013

    Waiting

    Im tired of waiting for house of hades to come out so i will put this comment on every e bok on my nook.COME OUT ALREADY!!!!!!!!!!

    0 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2013

    Worth a read

    Had me hooked. Entertaining and an intriguing peek into a mysterious world.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2012

    I agree with Chirtsan

    Who ever wrote this book is a fukin faggot

    0 out of 23 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted February 2, 2013

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    Posted November 25, 2013

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    Posted March 31, 2013

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    Posted December 14, 2012

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    Posted September 1, 2014

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    Posted September 7, 2014

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