An Anatomy of Magic

Peter M. Nardi in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

1349924969Illusion is real, even if not actually truthful. Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie begins: “Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” Illusion is magicians’s product, their craft, their tool. And central to its “appearance of truth” is a social system of secrets and surprise. Two recent books reveal the journeys and expertise needed to enter and participate in this unusual world.

Alex Stone’s Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks & the Hidden Powers of the Mind begins with him having flamed out performing at a Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques’ (FISM) World Championships of Magic event (which he strangely calls the Magic Olympics). Undeterred in his desire to become a skilled magician, Stone realizes he needs to learn more about not just the techniques, but the secret subculture, to learn about the world of magicians in greater depth.

The details of his progress are described in Fooling Houdini, as he leads us through various kinds of deception: mentalism, pickpocketing, three-card Monte scams, and mathematical magic. Along the way, side trips are taken to introduce us to Richard Turner, a blind close-up magician who amazes with his hypersensitive touch; to observe a psychology experiment at the New School illustrating misdirection and selective attention; and to exchange secrets with magicians at the back of a pizza parlor, in a magic store, in Las Vegas classes, and at Los Angeles’s famous Magic Castle.

More here.