Daily Archives: April 9, 2013

Review ~ Fooling Houdini

Cover via Goodreads

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

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. (via Goodreads)

There are two aspects to this book.  One of them worked very well for me, and the other sort of half worked*.

The part that worked: Alex Stone’s story. Stone begins this book with his disastrous competition at the World Championships of Magic. At the beginning of this book he’s a magic aficionado, but not too far beyond hobbyist. He hasn’t taken that full-on plunge into the obsession that is needed to become really, really good at magic. He goes on a journey (both figuratively and physically with many trips to Vegas and back) to learn how to be a better magician. The part of his life that takes a backseat to this obsession is his career as a physicist.

Along the way, he finds that there is a great overlap between the sciences and magic.

For me, this was the part that didn’t work as well, *but I have this intersection of interests that includes hustling and advertising, both of which lead to the same neuroscience concepts that are used by magicians. The “lesser-known corners of psychology, [and] neuroscience” weren’t lesser known to me. (Plus, I have stuff like this in my backyard.) That doesn’t mean that Stone doesn’t do a good job keeping the science accessible. Even knowing what I know, I didn’t skim. On the other hand, the other crunchy bits were pretty  cool. I had no idea that three card monte was not only still a thing, but a profitable crime enterprise. One of the last sections deals (ha!) with rising sequences in card shuffling which is the basis for many card tricks (and some card counting) and has served as in important model for randomness. If you can’t tell, I find that exciting and it wasn’t something I didn’t have a good gasp of before reading Finding Houdini.

Genre: Non-fiction (I seem to be on a non-fiction kick. Two more reviews of non-fiction books are on the way.)
Why did I choose to read this book? I’m reading a lot about magic.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes.
Craft Lessons: Narrative still belongs in non-fiction.
Format: Kindle ebook
Procurement: Greater Phoenix Digital Library