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

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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, Stone pulls back the curtain 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.


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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, Stone pulls back the curtain 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.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    I made many notes while reading this book about the author's quest to find his place in the world of magicians. His perseverance and dedication are to be admired. On the whole it was an interesting story and the sleight of hand is nothing but magical. I was mesmerized by all types of magic described and the talent of those who perform this art. I think my favorite tricks are those done with just a plain deck of playing cards. The way these can be manipulated leave me in awe. This reader would ha I made many notes while reading this book about the author's quest to find his place in the world of magicians. His perseverance and dedication are to be admired. On the whole it was an interesting story and the sleight of hand is nothing but magical. I was mesmerized by all types of magic described and the talent of those who perform this art. I think my favorite tricks are those done with just a plain deck of playing cards. The way these can be manipulated leave me in awe. This reader would have loved this even more if it had a better narrative flow. Three card monte anyone?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mara

    The fact that this book was written without a single allusion to everyone's favorite illusionist, Gob Bluth , is basically a crime against humanity (or at least against the laws of pop culture reference-dom). This missed opportunity is especially egregious, given that our author/magician, Alex Stone, is, at one point,kicked out of the Academy of Magical Arts ! I'll be honest. I'm just more comfortable with an Alliance-approved magician. If you're looking for a book that interweaves sci The fact that this book was written without a single allusion to everyone's favorite illusionist, Gob Bluth , is basically a crime against humanity (or at least against the laws of pop culture reference-dom). This missed opportunity is especially egregious, given that our author/magician, Alex Stone, is, at one point,kicked out of the Academy of Magical Arts ! I'll be honest. I'm just more comfortable with an Alliance-approved magician. If you're looking for a book that interweaves science and magic (and the interchange of knowledge between the two), I highly recommend Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about Our Everyday Deceptions by Stephen L. Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde.

  3. 4 out of 5

    David

    What entertainment! This is the autobiographical story of a graduate student in physics, who decided to take a detour into magic. Alex Stone starts the book with a giant flub; he competed in the "Magic Olympics" in Stockholm--and was disqualified because he hid his hands behind a table. That was, for him, "rock bottom". He decided to study, practice, attend magic workshops, and practice, practice, and practice. The book has some interesting digressions about neuroscience, and the psychology of i What entertainment! This is the autobiographical story of a graduate student in physics, who decided to take a detour into magic. Alex Stone starts the book with a giant flub; he competed in the "Magic Olympics" in Stockholm--and was disqualified because he hid his hands behind a table. That was, for him, "rock bottom". He decided to study, practice, attend magic workshops, and practice, practice, and practice. The book has some interesting digressions about neuroscience, and the psychology of inattention. Stone studied psychology, and came to the realization that hands are not really faster than the eye. But hands can be faster than the mind. It is also filled with fascinating accounts of magicians and their diverse approaches to magic. There is a full description of how street grifters, or "confidence men" walk through the streets of cities, attended by a "mob" that lures in victims. These con-artists are magicians of a different sort. Note the use of the word "artists", the only type of criminal given such a title. Stone worked with master magicians. He learned that magic is not just a set of tricks, but it is theater. He learned how to be a real performer. He realized that he needed a theme for his magic, and he eventually realized that his theme needed to have some relationship to physics or mathematics. Master magicians told him that the best tricks are old ones that have been long-forgotten. He did a lot of research, and found that he could take advantage of some special mathematical qualities of card decks. The last chapter describes two tricks that he invented--absolutely incredible! He throws a deck of cards into the audience, and asks the spectator nearest to where the deck fell to pick it up and cut it, again and again. Then he asks the nearest six people to pick up one card from the top of the deck. He requests the people who picked up red cards (or black cards, it doesn't matter) to stand up. Then, after some irrelevant comments and questions, he quickly tells the audience what cards they chose, in the correct order. Stone actually describes, in general terms, the secret of this trick. Even knowing the secret, it would be marvelous to see this trick in action!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Harold

    I enjoyed every moment reading this book this book! If nothing in the title piques your interest then this book is not for you. But for me? Right up my alley! There is so much of interest in this book - so much knowledge - so much touching on the arcane that I found myself highlighting much of the text for future reference. That Stone can make the mathematics of shuffling a deck of cards interesting speaks to remarkable writing skills. When he explains the universe reflected in 52 cards I am rap I enjoyed every moment reading this book this book! If nothing in the title piques your interest then this book is not for you. But for me? Right up my alley! There is so much of interest in this book - so much knowledge - so much touching on the arcane that I found myself highlighting much of the text for future reference. That Stone can make the mathematics of shuffling a deck of cards interesting speaks to remarkable writing skills. When he explains the universe reflected in 52 cards I am rapt.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Vonia

    This book is the perfect companion to one of my favorites, "Sleights Of Mind". Whereas "Sleights Of Mind" is written by neuroscientists exploring the world of magic, this is written by a magician exploring magic's significant relevancy to psychology and the neurosciences. (He is, however, also a physicist. Although he left his PhD program in order to pursue magic, he still retains his passion for physics.) The two works greatly compliment each other, covering much of the same territory, but from This book is the perfect companion to one of my favorites, "Sleights Of Mind". Whereas "Sleights Of Mind" is written by neuroscientists exploring the world of magic, this is written by a magician exploring magic's significant relevancy to psychology and the neurosciences. (He is, however, also a physicist. Although he left his PhD program in order to pursue magic, he still retains his passion for physics.) The two works greatly compliment each other, covering much of the same territory, but from different perspectives, making repeat information more welcome rather than repetitive. The mulled over topics include Psychology/Sociology experiments, Neurobiology imaging scans proving the importance of innate brain mechanisms to a magician's success, the effects of secrecy on an individual psyche, explanations for various magic tricks, examining the unique subculture of magicians. Numerous types are examined: street magic, stage illusions, close-up magic, card tricks, escapologists, psychics, mentalism. The great legends in magic across time, including recent sensations are all mentioned: Robert-Houdin, Dai Vernon, David Copperfield, Cardini, David Blaine, Penn & Teller, Criss Angel, Harry Blackstone, Lance Burton, Banachek, Persi Diaconis (actually, a "Mathemagician", a most fascinating title), Robert Turner (A blind magician), Val Valentino (The Masked Magician). Author and magician Alex Stone personally meet many of these, including a class from Jeff McBride. Even more amazing was the opportunity he had to meet David Bayer, Russell Crowe's hands as mathematical genius John Nash as portrayed in one of my favorite films, 2001's Academy Award winner "A Beautiful Mind". The most iconic places for magic, such as Tannen's in New York, The Magic Castle in Hollywood, California. Competitions for magicians worldwide that the author kept tabs on, whether or not he participated. Performing magic for laypersons is one thing. Entirely different, that is, from performing for dozens, even hundreds, of fellow magicians. The greatest honor for them is to fool their very own. The two he did participate in- The Magic Olympics and The International Brotherhood of Magicians- are faithfully chronicled, especially the latter, in which he trained and strained on his act for quite some time, practicing for hours and days on end, in order to perfect it. As a sample of the fascinating magic "secrets" revealed, I will share a couple of my favorites. One was the explanation of the Faro Shuffle (a prescribed, very precise Shuffle wherein the deck is cut exactly in half and the cards are interwoven perfectly). When done correctly, it enables the magician to guide the cards where he wants them- therefore, to magically guess whatever card needed. As long as he shuffles the deck, or someone else shuffles it in the "traditional" way (Riffling the cards; interlacing to halves, a few cards on top of one another). The knowledge behind this is essentially mathematical, related closely to computer sciences' binary code. Even more intriguing, it takes pretty much exactly 8 shuffles to truly randomize a deck. Any less, the cards are not random and at risk to "magic". Anymore, it really makes no difference (think about how water boils; nothing much until it boils, but afternoons that it is pretty much the same). One more. The three basics in magic based on pure trickery, from way back when, are The Fast + Loose, The Shell Game (Cups + Balls), The 3-Card Monte. Essentially, the audience is always the " victims", as they are always guaranteed to lose. They are several men operations, a team that consists of dealers, individuals that will pretend to lose, another that comments to the "target", as if they can commiserate in their losing hundreds together (even though, obviously, the " target" is the only one in reality), etcetera). No matter how well one knows the game, it is nearly impossible to win, as long as the street magicians do things right. Magic is necessarily, undeniably, intimately related to the neurosciences, biology, physics, engineering, computer sciences, psychology, sociology, and the performing arts. I commend Stone for illustrating this with such intelligence, engagement, and even flair. Very importantly, something also expressed in almost the same words in several other "magicology" books, learning the secrets behind how tricks work does not make us, as spectators, less amazed, less appreciative, less enamored, less enthralled, by magicians. Rather, by understanding it- while our cognitive processes still prevent us from seeing it live in action- we appreciate it even more. We are even more drawn in. "Magic happens not in the hands of the magician, but in the mind of the spectator." Well, of course. At its core, magic is- simply said- magicians toying with and taking advantage of our innate perceptual mechanisms. We all naturally (whether we will admit it is irrelevant) see what we want to see. We believe what we want to believe. And for most of us, that is the opportunity to be amazed. To be children again, when the possibilities were endless.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sonja Arlow

    3 1/2 stars This book was long forgotten at the bottom of my TBR pile until I came across a Freakonomics podcast (Think Like a Child) where the host had an interview with Alex Stone about just how difficult it is to fool children with the same magic tricks that will completely flabbergast adults. “Magic, at its core, is about toying with the limits of perception. And as any neuroscientist will tell you, one can learn a lot about the brain by studying those bizarre moments wherein it succumbs to i 3 1/2 stars This book was long forgotten at the bottom of my TBR pile until I came across a Freakonomics podcast (Think Like a Child) where the host had an interview with Alex Stone about just how difficult it is to fool children with the same magic tricks that will completely flabbergast adults. “Magic, at its core, is about toying with the limits of perception. And as any neuroscientist will tell you, one can learn a lot about the brain by studying those bizarre moments wherein it succumbs to illusion. Magic lives in these moments. The world of magic is filled with scientists and the world of science is filled with magicians. Alex got his first magic kit from his father and the delight his father took in seeing him perform, not to mention Alex’s own awe at creating “magic”, turned into a very strong father/son bond. What impressed me most (besides the authors surprisingly good writing) was that he diversified the content to not only include information in a subculture I know nothing about but also delved into the science behind tricking the brain and the tactile skills and embodied cognition needed for these illusions. 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. And yes, as expected there are a lot of loonies and crazy oddballs in this industry however the practice and regulation of magic is quite a serious business. "For me, discovering the world of magic was like finding my own island of misfit friends, a place where everyone was special in the wrong way." People often ask me if magic is good for getting girls, and the answer is yes. But it’s also good for making them disappear.” Fooling Houdini was well written, fascinating, and fun. I thought the author had an extremely likable and authentic voice demonstrated just how much work magic really is.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Anne Shirako

    Why would a physics PhD student leave Columbia University to study magic? Why do we enjoy being fooled? What does math have to do with it? Answers to these questions and more can be found in Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind, by Alex Stone. Stone was enchanted at age six when he received a magic kit. Enthralled, he immediately began showing off his magic “skills” to everyone he could wheedle into watching. It wasn’t until after he was hauled off Why would a physics PhD student leave Columbia University to study magic? Why do we enjoy being fooled? What does math have to do with it? Answers to these questions and more can be found in Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind, by Alex Stone. Stone was enchanted at age six when he received a magic kit. Enthralled, he immediately began showing off his magic “skills” to everyone he could wheedle into watching. It wasn’t until after he was hauled off the stage in disgrace at the World Championships of Magic in 2008 that he became serious about studying and practicing the magic arts. Stone’s book is part memoir, part investigation into the hidden subculture of magicians (and street-side con men), and part a look into how and why magicians can fools us—a personal journey rather than a textbook. Obfuscation, distraction, and endless hours of practice all have their part in the success of an illusion. Stone explains how inattentional or perceptual blindness, the “failure to notice an unexpected stimulus that is in plain sight” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inattent...), is used by magicians to bamboozle their audiences. He describes how the classic short cons (three card Monte and the shell game), well orchestrated, multi-casted street theater acts, work to fleece carefully selected suckers; how he can distract a patsy while snatching his watch; and how psychics are able (well, actually not) to read minds. In addition, Stone reveals some of the math and science behind conjuror’s tricks. For example, shuffling, on the average, must be done seven times to mix the deck--a hypothesis tested out by Perci Diaconis, a Harvard mathematician and magician. Shuffling only one or two times still allows the card magician to see out-of-order cards. This mathematical discovery not only tightened up casino security, it strangely enough also had significant impact on the medicine mixing strategies of pharmaceutical companies. Being a muggle, I didn’t know that there is a world class magic library, The Conjuring Arts Research Center, in New York City. Like Hermione, serious magicians search here for ancient magical secrets. “‘If you want to fool magicians…you’re not going to fool them with a new move. You’re going to fool them with some hundred-year-old mathematical principle…Go dig up some ancient book. Go to the library’” (emphasis gleefully added). What did I think? NOT a great book. Lots of random magic info dropped into a less than engaging memoir. If you're interested in learning more about how magic really works, read Perci Diaconis’ book, Magical Mathematics, the Mathematical Ideas that Animate Great Magic Tricks (check your library catalog for a copy). Stone refers to Diaconis as a “naturally gifted magician [and] an underground legend.” Why not learn from the best instead of a not-so-great amateur who writes about the best? Teen magicians might like to watch Make Believe, the Battle to Become the World’s Best Teen Magician. Make Believe follows the journeys of six young magicians from around the planet as they vie for the title of Teen World Champion of Magic. In addition, the magicians share card trick tutorials in the Bonus Materials. Reviewed by Anne Shirako, Reference Librarian, Ukiah Branch, Mendocino County Library, 3/2013

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tori

    I LOVED this book!!!!!! I loved the author's self-deprecating humor, his anecdotes, and his nerdiness. I loved the subject matter. What a great read!!!!! Stone was a physics guy- working on a PhD at Columbia - and thought that magic would make him less nerdy. He learns, buys, and creates magic tricks, and eventually competes in the Magic Olympics. Who would have thought such a forum existed??? Or that there are over 100 magic conventions each year? The reader doesn't exactly learn the "secrets" of I LOVED this book!!!!!! I loved the author's self-deprecating humor, his anecdotes, and his nerdiness. I loved the subject matter. What a great read!!!!! Stone was a physics guy- working on a PhD at Columbia - and thought that magic would make him less nerdy. He learns, buys, and creates magic tricks, and eventually competes in the Magic Olympics. Who would have thought such a forum existed??? Or that there are over 100 magic conventions each year? The reader doesn't exactly learn the "secrets" of magic tricks, but is definitely more aware of the basics. Is there anyone who hasn't been awed by magic? I think I became more impressed with all the work that goes into performing magic after reading this book! I loved the thought that "magic toys with the limits of perception." As much as the physical senses tell us that something "impossible" is happening, we know that somehow, we are really just being tricked. And expectation plays a pivotal role in what we "see". Stone quotes a magician who said, "Usually when we're fooled, the mind hasn't made a mistake. It's come to the wrong conclusion for the right reason." I learned that it has been proven that you need to shuffle a deck 7 times to fully mix up the cards. And in the 1950's, the CIA hired a magician to train spies in the art of deception! Stone also contacted the author off Moonwalking with Einstein (another book I loved) to teach him how to memorize a deck of cards. It amazed me how much time and money are spent by magicians to perform so flawlessly. When Stone finally meets a woman almost by accident, I am definitely rooting for that relationship to be a success. I only wish I could see Stone perform some of the tricks he talks about. Who doesn't want to be amazed???????

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jess

    Well, it's an okay anecdotal history of magic, but the author is kind of a defensive douchebag, and the book never achieves any real depth. Love to read a book about women in magic (and why there are so few), anyone know of one? Well, it's an okay anecdotal history of magic, but the author is kind of a defensive douchebag, and the book never achieves any real depth. Love to read a book about women in magic (and why there are so few), anyone know of one?

  10. 5 out of 5

    J.R.

    So... I hear this book is catching a lot of crap in the magic community. I can see why but I'm not going to pile on. I don't think it's much of an exposé at all. There are things I didn't like though. First off the writing isn't superb. I would expect this from a non writer memoir but the author writes and has for a while regularly for discover. The book could have been shorter. There were sections when it felt like padding. Another complaint was that he wasn't clear how major aspects of the sto So... I hear this book is catching a lot of crap in the magic community. I can see why but I'm not going to pile on. I don't think it's much of an exposé at all. There are things I didn't like though. First off the writing isn't superb. I would expect this from a non writer memoir but the author writes and has for a while regularly for discover. The book could have been shorter. There were sections when it felt like padding. Another complaint was that he wasn't clear how major aspects of the story came out or at least the status as the book was ending. If you're going to talk a lot about x in the beginning then at least tell me how that came out. There were a couple of spots where I felt the author borrowed quotes and then while attributing them he did it pages later. One comes to mind calling magicians and himself an "Honest Liar". On the page he intros it he doesn't claim it's original, but he doesn't attribute it to Jamy Ian Swiss until much later. Editing mistake or deception with time misdirection? Dunno. Some of the science wasn't well documented and clearly simplified. I understand why. I mean this isn't a science book, but still it got my bullshit meter off of zero a couple of times. I will say in his favor he wasn't afraid to share moments when he looked bad. At one point in the book I did not like him at all. All in all it was ok. It was a nice walk back into the magic community I left years ago for many of the reasons the author explained in detail. For the non magic crowd: not recommended. For the magic crowd: it'll make you mad at times, but still worth a look maybe.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jim Aker

    Arthur C. Clarke has told us that , "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." What if someone with a scientific mind went about designing a magic routine around science? That is exactly what Alex Stone the author, Physics student and amateur magician does. This was an a excellent read for those with an interest in science and magic. A very entertaining read with a little something for everyone. I recommend it. Arthur C. Clarke has told us that , "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." What if someone with a scientific mind went about designing a magic routine around science? That is exactly what Alex Stone the author, Physics student and amateur magician does. This was an a excellent read for those with an interest in science and magic. A very entertaining read with a little something for everyone. I recommend it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mark Stevens

    I've been to the Magic Castle in Los Angeles, love the magic segments on the variety shows when I was a kid (still do) and have perfected one jaw-dropping card trick that works on about 30 percent of the four-year-old population. I liked to be amazed and amused. In "Fooling Houdini," Alex Stone lifts the curtain on the world of magic. It's not a full-scale exposure. It's not a how-to or tell-all. It's a peek inside the relationship between magician and audience, between the duper and dupee, those I've been to the Magic Castle in Los Angeles, love the magic segments on the variety shows when I was a kid (still do) and have perfected one jaw-dropping card trick that works on about 30 percent of the four-year-old population. I liked to be amazed and amused. In "Fooling Houdini," Alex Stone lifts the curtain on the world of magic. It's not a full-scale exposure. It's not a how-to or tell-all. It's a peek inside the relationship between magician and audience, between the duper and dupee, those with the secrets and those who seek to be wowed. "To truly understand the art of magic and its timeless appeal, you wind up asking questions not just about how the mind works--and why sometimes it doesn't--but also about some of the most fundamental aspects of human nature," writes Stone. "Why do people take pleasure in deceiving others? How does the brain perceive the world and parse everyday experience? What are the psychological consequences of secrecy? What is reality, and how much of it do we consciously take in? How much faith can we have in our memories?" Stone plays grasshopper to a series of gurus and masters and he dives deep into various aspects of the magic and its history--the lore, the heroes, the science, the psychology, the art, the math, the quaint clubs, the characters, the goofy mentalists, the rules and how the world of magic has changed over time. We meet a raft of individuals, including Richard Turner, a card handler without equal, "a man whose prowess with a deck bordered on the supernatural." (The chapter is called "The Touch Analyst" and Stone describes some skills here that probably have to be seen in person to be believed.) Ultimately, "Fooling Houdini" is Stone's search for an improved performance self--finding a "person" inside who can hit the right note of credibility on stage. It's a tricky balance, as Stone notes, because "performing magic puts you in the awkward position of having to deceive the very people you seek to win." By the way, the hand is not quicker than eye. Read "Fooling Houdini" if you want to understand why.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Joanne Clarke Gunter

    This book entertained and fascinated me. It is well-written and the author, besides being a extremely skilled close-up magician who excels at card and coin tricks, also has a master's degree in physics from Columbia University deciding to quit his PhD work in order to hone his magic skills and travel the country getting to know the master magicians and learn from them. Many of the magic tricks described in this book are amazing just to read about and the mental acuity combined with the physical d This book entertained and fascinated me. It is well-written and the author, besides being a extremely skilled close-up magician who excels at card and coin tricks, also has a master's degree in physics from Columbia University deciding to quit his PhD work in order to hone his magic skills and travel the country getting to know the master magicians and learn from them. Many of the magic tricks described in this book are amazing just to read about and the mental acuity combined with the physical dexterity required to pull some of them off is nothing short of astounding. As a child and teenager Alex Stone was fascinated by magic and learned many common tricks in order to amuse his friends and family, oh and to get girls. As he got older, he realized that he needed to put in a lot more work in order to succeed at magic shows and competitions; plus, he wanted to know the history of magic and how it relates to his chosen field of physics (many physicists share an interest in magic) and to the science of the human mind and human behavior. So in this book we are not only treated to the description of magic tricks, how some of them work, and how difficult some are, but also to his interviews with psychologists about their experiments on why and how people continually fall for magic and how the human mind is easily confused and distracted. He also visits some of the expert street scammers in New York who make a good living (some make up to $5,000 per day!) with the age-old simple balls and cups tricks. You will learn that one of the best card magicians in the country is blind and that children are harder to fool than adults. There is oh so much fun stuff in this book and I highly recommend it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jill Hutchinson

    This is a very unusual book......it is written by a PhD physicist who became addicted to magic and, as do most addictions, it took over his life. He flirted with card tricks as a child after his father bought him a magic kit and became hooked. He takes us through his journey which is absolutely fascinating. There is an underground world of magicians from street performers to professionals, secret societies, oaths, newsletters.....laymen are not welcome. The greatest magicians are those we have n This is a very unusual book......it is written by a PhD physicist who became addicted to magic and, as do most addictions, it took over his life. He flirted with card tricks as a child after his father bought him a magic kit and became hooked. He takes us through his journey which is absolutely fascinating. There is an underground world of magicians from street performers to professionals, secret societies, oaths, newsletters.....laymen are not welcome. The greatest magicians are those we have never heard of.....not David Copperfield or Houdini but men who developed tricks that have not been equaled, (although he does have great respect for Penn and Teller who often show their audience how a trick is done). Some are these magicians are the men behind the Las Vegas headliners...the ones who develop the illusions for the star. But the majority work with the close-up which is the use of coins, cards, balls, etc. rather than making the Empire State Building disappear and they are idols of the magician's world. The author does reveal some secrets regarding card tricks (but they probably can be found on the internet) and was once chastised for breaking the oath of secrecy. He connects close-up magic, especially with cards, to mathematics and it makes perfect sense. So the next time you go see a magician, remember it is only a form of misdirection and perception, not magic......or is it? Recommended.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Bandit

    According to Alex Stone, the world as magicians see it has only two kinds of persons...magicians and laymen. Any of the latter kind who happens to be fascinated with the world of the former kind (as I am) should read this book. Through a personal quest to become a better magician, the author takes the readers on the incredible journey into an equally incredible world. We meet amazing characters (like a blind card expert/martial artist) and get to hear their stories. You really get to understand According to Alex Stone, the world as magicians see it has only two kinds of persons...magicians and laymen. Any of the latter kind who happens to be fascinated with the world of the former kind (as I am) should read this book. Through a personal quest to become a better magician, the author takes the readers on the incredible journey into an equally incredible world. We meet amazing characters (like a blind card expert/martial artist) and get to hear their stories. You really get to understand how magic is not just a mere hobby but a way of life, an absolute all consuming obsession, a neverending pursuit of perfection. What's more, the author talks about his much beloved subject from a physicist's (his other speciality) point of view, mathematician's point of view, sociologist's point of view. The book is loaded with fascinating facts and insights about human mentality and psychology behind those who try to fool us and those who look to be fooled. It talks not merely of performance magicians, but also of street hustlers, mentalists, professional competitors in various competitions and more. It is remarkable to see just how much work goes into magic to make it seem effortless, what goes into the making of tricks and tricksters, the preparation, the endless practice to master the art, for it is really an art form and should anyone ever question this, just see some well done magic and be amazed, properly amazed, awe, childlike wonder and all. Or read this book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Hal

    I got wind of this book from the CBS "Face the Nation" presentation of authors singled out for there work. Bob Scheiffer the host went on and on praising Alex Stone and how funny and entertaining his book was. It sounded interesting but I did not quite connect in the same way. Essentially the book is about how Alex a then student working on an advanced degree in physics decided to put his schooling on hold to further his first love performing magic acts and card tricks. He started out by getting I got wind of this book from the CBS "Face the Nation" presentation of authors singled out for there work. Bob Scheiffer the host went on and on praising Alex Stone and how funny and entertaining his book was. It sounded interesting but I did not quite connect in the same way. Essentially the book is about how Alex a then student working on an advanced degree in physics decided to put his schooling on hold to further his first love performing magic acts and card tricks. He started out by getting 86'd at the Magic Olympics for a sub par performance. The real mystery was how he got there in the first place, never really explained. After this incident he embarks on a journey of seeking what he lacked from other accomplished and legendary performers and other experiences. Though at times the book had its moments overall I was quite disappointed with the monotony of the delivery. I am thinking amateur magicians would be more of the audience for the book and really did not see much point in it.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Janis Ian

    An absolute must for anyone interested in magic - but even more so, anyone interested in the cognitive sciences, particularly as applied to vision and cortex. For instance: "Studies have found that visual deprivation causes almost immediate changes in the brain. In one study, blindfolded adults picked up tactile cues in their visual cortex after just five days. Another group of researchers has shown that people become more touch-sensitive after ninety minutes of sitting in a pitch-black room.... An absolute must for anyone interested in magic - but even more so, anyone interested in the cognitive sciences, particularly as applied to vision and cortex. For instance: "Studies have found that visual deprivation causes almost immediate changes in the brain. In one study, blindfolded adults picked up tactile cues in their visual cortex after just five days. Another group of researchers has shown that people become more touch-sensitive after ninety minutes of sitting in a pitch-black room....In the complex grammar of touch, the meaning of an action depends on subtle variations in velocity, pressure, location, abruptness, and duration. When stroking someone’s arm, for instance, a few extra seconds can turn a show of sympathy into a gesture of love, while a slight variation in pressure can mean the difference between anger and fear. Despite all this complexity, the language of touch is remarkably universal. Like magic, it transcends culture, age, and gender, and often bypasses the rational side of the brain." Fascinating stuff.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Is it a book about Alex Cross? Is it a book about magic? Is it a book about cognitive science? Is it a book about math? It all depends on which page you're reading. Is it a book about Alex Cross? Is it a book about magic? Is it a book about cognitive science? Is it a book about math? It all depends on which page you're reading.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Guilherme Zeitounlian

    “One of the best-kept secrets we have as magicians is that laymen would never imagine we would work so hard to fool them.” (Jamy Ian Swiss) This book is a solid piece of entertainment, with some forays and mentions of physics, math, and psychology. I was happily surprised to learn about the secretive (and hardworking) world of magicians. The author is a bit too full of himself, and the narrative does not always flow easily. But it was fun, and I recommend it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Audra Falk

    I picked this up on a whim when it caught my eye at the library. The concept of exploring the world of magicians and street cons or card cons fascinated me, probably because it's such a deviation from my own life experiences! In the end though, I only made it halfway through the book before it was due back at the library and didn't feel like renewing it. Parts of the book felt a little too tedious. Sometimes the author spent more time than necessary explaining his own journey. Still this would l I picked this up on a whim when it caught my eye at the library. The concept of exploring the world of magicians and street cons or card cons fascinated me, probably because it's such a deviation from my own life experiences! In the end though, I only made it halfway through the book before it was due back at the library and didn't feel like renewing it. Parts of the book felt a little too tedious. Sometimes the author spent more time than necessary explaining his own journey. Still this would likely be an intriguing read for many.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Micha

    I think my main gripe with the novel was that the author used so many references and often piled on too much information (which likely could have been condensed). Also, I learned a bit of the neuroscience aspect of magic in Brain Games, apparently. Who knew.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rick Mutzke

    If you're at all interested in magic and magic tricks, this is a great read. The author goes into a bit of history while describing his growing interest in the various types of magic. If you're at all interested in magic and magic tricks, this is a great read. The author goes into a bit of history while describing his growing interest in the various types of magic.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mendocino County Library

    Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind, by Alex Stone Why would a physics PhD student leave Columbia University to study magic? Why do we enjoy being fooled? What does math have to do with it? Answers to these questions and more can be found in Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind, by Alex Stone. Stone was enchanted at age six when he received a magic kit. Enthralled, he immediately began showing off hi Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind, by Alex Stone Why would a physics PhD student leave Columbia University to study magic? Why do we enjoy being fooled? What does math have to do with it? Answers to these questions and more can be found in Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind, by Alex Stone. Stone was enchanted at age six when he received a magic kit. Enthralled, he immediately began showing off his magic “skills” to everyone he could wheedle into watching. It wasn’t until after he was hauled off the stage in disgrace at the World Championships of Magic in 2008 that he became serious about studying and practicing the magic arts. Stone’s book is part memoir, part investigation into the hidden subculture of magicians (and street-side con men), and part a look into how and why magicians can fools us—a personal journey rather than a textbook. Obfuscation, distraction, and endless hours of practice all have their part in the success of an illusion. Stone explains how inattentional or perceptual blindness, the “failure to notice an unexpected stimulus that is in plain sight” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inattent...), is used by magicians to bamboozle their audiences. He describes how the classic short cons (three card Monte and the shell game), well orchestrated ,multi-casted street theater acts, work to fleece carefully selected suckers; how he can distract a patsy while snatching his watch; and how psychics are able (well, actually not) to read minds. In addition, Stone reveals some of the math and science behind conjuror’s tricks. For example, shuffling, on the average, must be done seven times to mix the deck--a hypothesis tested out by Perci Diaconis, a Harvard mathematician and magician. Shuffling only one or two times still allows the card magician to see out-of-order cards. This mathematical discovery not only tightened up casino security, it strangely enough also had significant impact on the medicine mixing strategies of pharmaceutical companies. Being a muggle, I didn’t know that there is a world class magic library, The Conjuring Arts Research Center, in New York City. Like Hermione, serious magicians search here for ancient magical secrets. “‘If you want to fool magicians…you’re not going to fool them with a new move. You’re going to fool them with some hundred-year-old mathematical principle…Go dig up some ancient book. Go to the library’” (emphasis gleefully added). If you’re a budding magician or a mathematician, request Perci Diaconis’ book, Magical Mathematics, the Mathematical Ideas that Animate Great Magic Tricks (793.85 Diaconis) from our catalog. Stone refers to Diaconis as a “naturally gifted magician [and] an underground legend.” Why not learn from the best? UPDATE. We’re happy to announce, especially for our magic enthusiasts, that we now have the documentary Make Believe, the Battle to Become the World’s Best Teen Magician, in our library. Make Believe follows the journeys of six young magicians from around the planet as they vie for the title of Teen World Champion of Magic. In addition, the magicians share card trick tutorials in the Bonus Materials. Reviewed by Anne Shirako, Reference Librarian, Ukiah Branch, Mendocino County Library, 3/2013

  24. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Some unnecessary digressions, but otherwise highly charming and well-written. The first 3/4 of this book read like a real-life version of The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar (Roald Dahl). Ordinary guy begins to gain very unusual, nearly superhuman abilities that help him to cheat at cards through lots of practice and the help of a mysterious book various mentors. Stone summarizes a bunch of interesting psychological phenomenon that, unfortunately, I was already familiar with. Ultimately, Stone is Some unnecessary digressions, but otherwise highly charming and well-written. The first 3/4 of this book read like a real-life version of The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar (Roald Dahl). Ordinary guy begins to gain very unusual, nearly superhuman abilities that help him to cheat at cards through lots of practice and the help of a mysterious book various mentors. Stone summarizes a bunch of interesting psychological phenomenon that, unfortunately, I was already familiar with. Ultimately, Stone is at his best when writing about magic, gambling, street scams, and mentalism. The last 1/4 gets more mathy and sciencey and has a slightly different flavor than the rest of the book. There were parts of this book that were very jabbery: "As icons go, the monte deserves a place alongside baseball, apple pie, McDonald's, Elvis, nickel-plated handguns, and crack cocaine. America will forever be the scam's spiritual home. This scam is your scam. This scam is my scam. This scam was made for you and me." (pg 107). Some parts veered towards "too much information about a topic that has very little to do with magic". Just one example of this - page 58, Stone starts rambling about stock market speculation (thought process: magic -> gambling -> financial gambling) and really goes nowhere with it. Another example: "Carpal tunnel syndrome, the most frequently diagnosed RSI, affects millions of Americans and has become the most commonly reported work-related medical problem in America. Operations to treat carpal tunnel syndrome are now among the most frequent surgical procedures, with some 260,0000 operations performed each year." (pg 92) How did we get here? Stone was discussing Finger Fitness, a hand workout many magicians use to improve their hand dexterity, and then mentions how it can be used to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. Then he devotes an entire paragraph to "repetitive strain injuries." Some passages of this book made me dislike the author - for instance, on page 161, Stone writes, "A far more glaring insubordination occurred midway through my first semester, when I begged my Quantum Mechanics professor... to postpone our class's midterm by a full week so I could attend a five-day workshop on card and coin magic in Las Vegas." Really? If you're doing things like that, you probably shouldn't be in a physics grad program. On the whole, though, I enjoyed this book very much. Most interesting to me were the secrets behind magic. My favorite parts: pgs 115-117: The description of how the Monte street scam works. pg 222: "Coming off the success of The Jungle, Upton Sinclair wrote Mental Radio in 1930, a book about his second wife's psychic powers, to which Albert Einstein contributed a glowing preface." WTF? I must find out more... pg 224: Project Alpha hoax... WOW. pg 229: Alex plays mentalist Alex: "She's pregnant!" Friend: "Um, no. She has cancer." Alex: "Well, that's like being pregnant with a tumor." pg 289: "A colleague of physicist Richard Feynman once referred to him as a magician of the highest caliber. 'Even after we understand what they have done,' he said of geniuses like Feynman, 'the process by which they have done it is completely dark.'"

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Icasas

    This book is a great example of why magic, more often than not, has such a bad reputation. Even in 2012, when this book was published, there are some rather racist and sexist moments. "I was accustomed to being bested by Asian kids several years my junior," can be found in the text, along with fantasy-like descriptions of women that really come off as downright creepy. Then there are the more factual aspects, like calling a particular sleight a "middle deal" as opposed to a "center deal," referr This book is a great example of why magic, more often than not, has such a bad reputation. Even in 2012, when this book was published, there are some rather racist and sexist moments. "I was accustomed to being bested by Asian kids several years my junior," can be found in the text, along with fantasy-like descriptions of women that really come off as downright creepy. Then there are the more factual aspects, like calling a particular sleight a "middle deal" as opposed to a "center deal," referring to the event in which he was eliminated as "the Magic Olympics" when the magic community refers to it as "FISM," the Mandolin-backed deck was actually created for Paul Harris with Richard Turner providing a quality control role, it's loaded with errors that add up and build an image that the author did a bunch of searches on Google, read a few abstracts, had a few chance or incidental meetings and then passed himself as an expert--often making very grand and sweeping conjectures that are simply incorrect or sorely misguided at best. Certain anecdotes and thoughts are often misleading in his writing--for instance as he writes about the neuroscience of magic becoming a cottage industry (it's not), implying this was the reason why prominent magicians spoke at a 2007 meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness, when instead the reason it happened is more tied to the work of neuroscientists Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen Macknick, who were studying the neuroscience of magic at the time (these magicians are sometimes listed as co-authors of their papers). It's amazing how much the author gets wrong despite the claims of unprecedented access to some of the biggest or most underground names in magic--it doesn't take long for it all to seem like name dropping. For all of the times the author acknowledges his lack of skill, it is impressive to see the sheer amount of ego that drives them to forego taking a step back and (actually) learning and working hard, but ins tead to continue pressing on with an almost malicious manner of spewing half-facts and revealing secrets--as if it were retribution for the competition disqualifications or otherwise demonstrated incompetence, disguised under a weak argument of "revealing secrets only to build appreciation." It's disappointing to have spent money on this book to only to find so many blatant errors and misleading information; the author simply misses the point on a lot of things, and perhaps just as disappointing or even more so, is the editing and fact checking (or lack thereof) that somehow allowed this book to make it to print. The end product turned out to be surprisingly bad, at points coming off as careless. Of course, don't take my word for it, but I'll say this: if you talk like this and use the terminology the way the author presents it in this book to people in the magic community, they'll likely know from where you got your information. Ironically, even a shallow dive into much of the texts the author references in this book will reveal the true deception: that the author didn't read them and they aren't the authoritative figure they claim to be.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Donald Plugge

    I was back and forth on "Fooling Houdini" by Alex Stone, then ended up satisfied. The book was definitely a hodgepodge, part autobiography, part psychology, part history of magic, part "how to" and part brain science. Sometimes this type of book can end up being a "wiki" read, all the info from various wiki pages strung together. Alex was mostly able to avoid that tedium and weave together a unique blend of magic tales. Alex Stone explores himself in this book. Anyone can write a book about them I was back and forth on "Fooling Houdini" by Alex Stone, then ended up satisfied. The book was definitely a hodgepodge, part autobiography, part psychology, part history of magic, part "how to" and part brain science. Sometimes this type of book can end up being a "wiki" read, all the info from various wiki pages strung together. Alex was mostly able to avoid that tedium and weave together a unique blend of magic tales. Alex Stone explores himself in this book. Anyone can write a book about them self, but can they keep it interesting? Is the story unique enough to immerse the reader? For the most part, Alex has an engaging story. The chronicle is not "I did this", "I did that" and "Here is who I know", rather, he intermingles his personal quest with that of the history and key figures of conjuring. Although he does have lots of names to drop -- Wesley (Mentor), Jeff McBride, Eugene Burger (Mystery School), Richard Turner (blind), Armando Lucero, Paul Vigil, Juan Tamariz (Madrid School), Penn and Teller , Simon Lovell (Base Deal), Ken Schwabe (SAM president), David Roth (coin), Bob Friedhoffer (foul mouthed teacher), John Born (IBM close-up winner), Apollo Robbins (pick pocket), Eric Mead (corporate magician), Asi Wind, Benzi Train, Cheng Lin, Jack Diamond, Eric Decamps, and Doug Edwards just to name a few. The book displays an overall appreciation for the mere practice of magic, whether the advocate is professional or just a hobbyist. He never says this directly, however you come away with the benefits that attracted Alex to the field. The art of magic helps a person in showmanship, improves public speaking, is an ice breaker and is an aid to the compulsively shy. Hand-eye coordination and finger dexterity are the physical rewards in the practice of sleight of hand. The capturing and bending of attention is an intoxicating upper hand in both business and pleasure. And as is now prevalent in non-fiction, he adds a bit of the science and neurology into the mix. References to brain plasticity, eye saccades, brain regions like the visual cortex along with a discussion of recent brain studies relating to magic. All this appears to be skimmed from the current volumes of popular brain science literature. Then Alex investigates the mathematics like the De Bruijn sequences and the statistics of card shuffling, group and probability theory. In a nod to the cultish aspects and mystique of the black art, the book includes secret societies, rites of passage, masonic rituals and the ceremonial breaking of the wand. Although the book was more than a romp through the various wiki pages of magic, it did stray a bit from time to time. These included the talk of false memories and the legal system along with cell phone conversations and the dangers of distractions while driving. Then there was the usual repetition of brain evolution and the benefits to the hunter / gatherer. Yet none of this halted the forward progress. In the end the book had respect for my time as a reader.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Pjs_books Sather

    Fooling Houdini is a journey through a subculture I hadn’t even realized was a subculture. Alex Stone’s beautifully written magic memoire is a ton of fun. I laughed out loud in places, and I learned an old and important card trick that isn’t even a trick (and that even I can do—sometimes).

  28. 5 out of 5

    Katie/Doing Dewey

    Summary: The author of this memoir sometimes rubbed me the wrong way, but I enjoyed hearing about an interesting subculture with fun tangents on science and history. This story of author Alex Stone's attempt to become a master magician reminded me of a stunt memoir, like The Happiness Project, or of Mary Roach's books (although less humorous). Like these books, the author meets with fascinating people and tries off-beat approaches to learning more about his topic. He also couples descriptions of Summary: The author of this memoir sometimes rubbed me the wrong way, but I enjoyed hearing about an interesting subculture with fun tangents on science and history. This story of author Alex Stone's attempt to become a master magician reminded me of a stunt memoir, like The Happiness Project, or of Mary Roach's books (although less humorous). Like these books, the author meets with fascinating people and tries off-beat approaches to learning more about his topic. He also couples descriptions of his experience with fascinating tidbits of relevant science and history. This book ticked a lot of boxes for me. I love learning about interesting careers and subcultures and the world of the professional magician is certainly both. I also have always enjoyed stunt memoirs, hearing about someone having a lot of unusual experiences as they work to accomplish a goal. And I can't say no to a book full of fun science and history facts, especially when a lot relate to the way the human mind works. I really liked all of those aspects of this book. I had mixed feelings about the author that did influence how I experienced the book. Some of his mannerisms, particularly the use of casual phrases that felt out of place, bothered me enough to interrupt the flow of the book. I also have to admit that I didn't like him very much at the beginning. It seemed he'd not devoted the effort to being good at anything in his life. At the beginning, even his attempts to do magic were lazy at best. The positive side of that is that he had a really nice character arc throughout the story, experiencing some personal growth as he finally did put a lot of effort into one thing. This was a small part of the reading experience though and the author's engaging writing about topics that appeal to me generally made this a fun read. PS, if you were wondering about the post title - I've been naming review posts after the type of book they are for awhile and lately I've been reading so much nonfiction that just 'Nonfiction Review' didn't feel descriptive enough. I've also not written a lot recently about my long-term project to read one book per Dewey Decimal number, but I've been reminded that I used to name my reviews after their Dewey Decimal number by Arya at Arya's Fangirl Lexicon, who has just started trying to read one book per Dewey Decimal number herself.This review was originally posted on Doing Dewey

  29. 5 out of 5

    K. Lincoln

    I was hoping for some interesting tricks and connections between card-sharking and Math when I first picked up this book. What I got instead was Alex Stone's journey from dabbler in sleight of hand to his transformation into a true magician with his own style of math-derived card routine. And a fascinating journey it was. Did you know there was a Magic Olympics? Did you know many of the slight of hand masters are in danger of "recruitment" by the mafia? Did you know the masked magician on TV's Mag I was hoping for some interesting tricks and connections between card-sharking and Math when I first picked up this book. What I got instead was Alex Stone's journey from dabbler in sleight of hand to his transformation into a true magician with his own style of math-derived card routine. And a fascinating journey it was. Did you know there was a Magic Olympics? Did you know many of the slight of hand masters are in danger of "recruitment" by the mafia? Did you know the masked magician on TV's Magic's Greatest Tricks Revealed was kicked out of illusionist Criss Angel's series debut party? What you won't find is an explanation of how illusionists and trick card sleight-of-hand artists do their trick. While Stone goes into deep detail about the development of his own routine, he evidently learned his lesson (he chronicles in the book the flak he got as a result of publishing an article in a mainstream magazine about magic tricks) about revealing others' secrets. What you will find is an international veritable who's who of Magicians (mentalists, illusionists, sleight of hand masters) as Stone studies various Magician traditions (and some physics and math along the way)as well a look into the subculture of magicians, con artists, clowns, and performers. I also enjoyed Stone's ruminations on the nature of the brain and how it both helps magicians (plasticity of the brain can help magicians develop an amazing sense of touch) and allows spectators to be fooled (memory bias helps us remember only the "correct" parts of the mentalists' predictions as well as misdirection of our attention making us miss obvious sleight of hand). Throughout Stone's journey is his own, geeky, half-arrogant/half-deprecating view of the people involved in this subculture, as well as his own stubborn desire to succeed as a magician. Extremely readable and interesting look at what most laypeople have no idea exists. This Book's Snack Rating: Melty cheese nerdery on waffle fries for the surprisingly satisfying and compelling taste of the magic subculture

  30. 4 out of 5

    Darrenglass

    Alex Stone is a magician. And a physicist. And a science writer. But at heart he is a magician.He competed in the Magic Olympics in Stockholm in 2006 and...well, as one reads about in the opening pages of his book the outcome was not quite what he had hoped. So he decided to dive deeper into the world of magicians, and FOOLING HOUDINI takes the reader on this dive with him. Stone seems to be an eclectic person, and the book is an eclectic book. Large parts of this book are simply a personal memoi Alex Stone is a magician. And a physicist. And a science writer. But at heart he is a magician.He competed in the Magic Olympics in Stockholm in 2006 and...well, as one reads about in the opening pages of his book the outcome was not quite what he had hoped. So he decided to dive deeper into the world of magicians, and FOOLING HOUDINI takes the reader on this dive with him. Stone seems to be an eclectic person, and the book is an eclectic book. Large parts of this book are simply a personal memoir about what it is like to want to succeed at something and to confront various fears and challenges along the way -- to sacrifice other career paths and personal relationships because you want to be great. In some ways, this pursuit is completely generic which makes it both easy to understand and also one that I wasn't as interested in reading about. But other parts of the book were incredibly interesting to me. There were chunks about the history of magic or about the subculture of magicians that I found quite interesting. And the last few chapters, when Stone works with neuroscientists and mathematicians to develop new tricks, were utterly fascinating to read (and I am not simply saying this because I am friends with Dave Bayer, who plays a nontrivial role in the book). And I wish the book had been more of this. It is always hard when you read a book that is good but isn't quite what you wanted it to be. I am sure that Stone wrote the book he wanted to, and I think many readers will find it a 5-star reading experience. I certainly found it reached that at times. And he is a good enough writer that I will be curious to see what he writes about next. But this just wasn't quite the book I wanted it to be.

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