Be the Expert / Become the Expert


Week 2: November 10 to 14 (Hosted by Leslie @ Regular Rumination)
Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

It is difficult for me to claim “expert” in anything. The more research I do on any topic, the greater the realization that I don’t know much. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been gradually doing research for a novel I want to write about David P. Abbott, a magician who lived in Omaha, NE (my hometown) at the beginning of the 20th century. Abbott’s specialty was the exposure (in the most courteous manner possible) of spirit mediums. Here are three books that I’ve found useful on the subject of fraudulent mediums. (Longer list here.)

CoverRevelations of a Spirit Medium by Elijah Farrington – Published anonymously in 1891, this volume predates David Abbott’s involvement in spiritualism (at least that I know of) and certainly predates Houdini’s crusade against fraudulent mediums. It’s an utterly scathing indictment of the spiritualist movement in the late 1800s. Farrington tells of how he was frankly recruited to become a “medium” and how lucrative the job was. Revelations exposes a multitude of tricks used in cabinet mediumship and is doubly interesting because the exposures are written by someone who had to rely on the techniques. (Available Online, My Review)

booksThe History of a Strange Case by David P. Abbott – Abbott wrote several treatise on mediumship including Behind the Scenes with the Mediums, which is probably the most comprehensive article on spirit slate writing ever. But if I were to recommend one thing to read by David Abbott, it would be Strange Case. In it, Abbott tells of his journey from Omaha to a rural town in Ohio to investigate Mrs. Blake, a woman who could manifest voices from a trumpet or other objects. What sets this work apart for me is the attention to detail during the investigation and Abbott’s dogged open-mindedness. He isn’t willing to write off Mrs. Blake as a fraud without evidence. (Available Online)

Cover via GoodreadsTricks of the Mind by Darren Brown – Darren Brown is probably the most famous mentalists in the world today. Tricks of the Mind offers a modern view on the practice of today’s mediums.  Cabinet performances and the slate writing tests are now solidly the prevue of magicians, but the psychology that leads audiences to go along with cold reading and hypnotism stunts still remain. Brown explains a good number of the memory and suggestibility tricks he uses to produce the same effects as the Sylvia Brownes of today’s world. (My Review)


What haven’t I read yet?

  • Facts, Frauds, & Phantasms: A Survey of the Spiritualist Movement by Georgess McHargue
  • A Magician Among the Spirits by Harry Houdini
  • The Spirit World Unmasked by Henry Ridgely Evans
  • The Wandering of a Spiritualist by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Ten Years with Spiritual Mediums by Francis Gerry Fairfield

And so many more…


15 thoughts on “Be the Expert / Become the Expert

  1. Like Bookmammal, I too am a skeptic! But, I have good friends who regularly consult a medium and they totally believe in it. I’d be interested to learn a bit more to figure out why they’re believers.

    I posted books about the kennedys…under Be the Expert (…but like you said, expert is a VERY relative term!).

  2. I love this topic and am a huge fan of exposing frauds who take advantage of the vulnerable or uneducated. It’s a “crime” that makes my blood boil.

    I’ve always been pleased that it is often professional magicians who lead the charge in this regard too. James Randi, e.g., and who can forget Johnny Carson “exposing” Uri Geller on the Tonight Show?

    Are you familiar with The Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast? I don’t listen every week, but catch as many episodes as i can. They do a great job and often have reading recommendations along these lines.

    I see myself reading one of these books in the coming year…


    1. The Skeptics Guide to the Universe was one of the first things I encountered in the early 2000s when I was…looking for a world view that made sense to me. Funny thing, it lead me back to my enjoyment of magic in the form of Penn & Teller. Teller’s interest in David Abbott has led me to the reading and research I’m doing now which is one of the most enjoyable things I’ve done. Steven Novella and the gang have a lot to answer for. 😉

  3. Pingback: Review ~ Magic And Mystery | The Writerly Reader

  4. Pingback: Foiling the Frauds ~ Some of Vera Van Slyke’s Colleagues | Vera Van Slyke ~ Ghostly Mysteries

  5. Tim Prasil

    If you can find a copy of it, a movie called Fairy Tale: A True Story (1997) is a surprisingly fun, sweet look at the Cottingley fairies hoax (or was it???) and, by association, the Spiritualism movement. Peter O’Toole as Arthur Conan Doyle, Harvey Keitel as Harry Houdini — even Paul “The 8th Doctor” McGann shows up. It takes liberties with history . . . but the title, I think, announces that it’s playing with fact and fiction.

  6. I definitely thought I had already commented on this, but I’ll try again! I have researched the Spiritualist movement in the past for a piece of fiction I was working on and I find it so fascinating. Especially the people who devoted their time to debunking!

  7. Pingback: Foiling the Frauds: Some of Vera Van Slyke’s Colleagues – The Merry Ghost Hunter

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