Saturday, October 16, 2021

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




Diane Bostick

Author: Alex Stone

Publisher: Harper, June 2012

Kind of an intimidating title, I will admit, but don’t let it keep you from discovering the delights of this book. It is quite fascinating. I know that I told you that the new kid on the block, Maggie Gust, would be doing the non-fiction stuff in the future but I was not totally truthful. If I find a book I really enjoy I am not going to hold back from telling you about it just because it is not fiction. And in some ways this is fiction in that watching a good magician do his stuff makes one think that what is being seen can’t possibly be true, and indeed, it is not. Haven’t we all seen or heard something that just boggles our minds? We see it with our very eyes and yet our brain knows there is no way that what we thought we saw could have really happened. David Copperfield did not really make the Statue of Liberty disappear but if you ask anyone in the audience if that did indeed happen they will all swear it did. They saw it with their very own eyes. Nor does David Blaine actually levitate himself off the street, but if you have seen him on TV or YouTube appearing to do just that you would certainly think that those standing right in front of him believe that he has. The look of astonishment on their faces is a delight to watch and I have seen some so overwhelmed that they run away from him as though from the Devil himself. Does the author explain how all this was done? Well, actually he does explain the missing Statue of Liberty and quite a few other tricks of the trade but you can be assured that he has not told all by any stretch of the imagination. In fact he has been loudly lambasted in the past for divulging some magical secrets that others in the business thought should be shared only with the anointed few.

Anyone who has spent some time in New York City has seen a man on the sidewalk with his little table atop which sits three walnut shells and underneath one of these shells sits a pea. This is a street magician at work. He will have invited one and all to watch closely as he moves the shells around quickly and to then choose the shell hiding the pea. He will have encouraged those watching to place a little bet on which one it is. Needless to say most all who bet will lose their money. He may have confederates in the audience who will swear they are no longer allowed to bet as they have won so often, thus giving yet another illusion, that there is a snowball’s chance in H… that one might actually win some money. This same illusion is often performed with playing cards. And Mr. Stone will explain how it is done, in some detail. I bet you will still watch in fascination next time you see it, even knowing full well how it is done and you might even make a little bet on the outcome feeling confident that the very knowing of how it is done will give you an edge.

Alex Stone started his love affair with magic as a young boy when his father bought him a magic kit as a present. At first he thought doing magic tricks might make him appear less nerdy, or at least become a more interesting nerd. He soon found that he spent most of his free time, not with beautiful young girls, as he had hoped, but instead with other pasty male virgins. But still he worked at his craft as only a young man can until he was convinced he was pretty good at it. He even entered the Magic Olympics in Stockholm where he was quickly eliminated. He was so humiliated by his loss that he, for a time, turned his back on magic almost entirely. But soon he was enticed, once again, by the magic of magic. He embraced the craft so intensely that he almost totally devoted his life to the subject to the extent that he frequently skipped his Columbia classes in physics to study its every aspect. As he became more immersed in his obsession he concluded that to be considered a truly great magician he must have the ability to amaze other world renowned magicians. And for that to happen he had to go back to the original books of magic, many hundreds of years old, to learn what illusions were performed then and to figure out how they were done. This required him to not just learn tricks but also math, physics, science and psychology.

There are so many stories told in this book that I would love to share but there is a limit to how long they will let me make this review. I read it on my Kindle and I have dozens of places bookmarked and highlighted. So let me just say that you will have fun reading this book and, at the same time, learn a lot, not just about magic, but about people and how easily they can be deceived by misdirection and their desire to believe the unbelievable.

By the way, did you know that to have a new deck of cards truly shuffled it takes exactly seven shuffles? Any less and they will not be properly shuffled. Any more and they start to realign again. That’s just one of those little tidbits that I learned from Fooling Houdini.

Diane Bostick has lived on Marco Island since 1987.  She was the Founder and President of Ft. Myers chapter of the Association of Children with Learning Disabilities, President of Jr. Welfare League, Ft. Myers Chapter, and served on the board of Art League of Marco Island. She is an avid reader, fly fisherwoman, tennis player and crafter.

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