One of Amazon’s Ten Best Nonfiction Books of 2012

 

Fooling Houdini in the Wall Street Journal



 

Fooling Houdini on Good Day New York…


 

Fooling Houdini featured in USA Today Summer Books Preview…

“….a journalist with a master’s in physics and an amateur magician who competed in the 2006 Magic Olympics — pulls back the curtain on the secretive world of magicians.”
 

The New York Times says…

“[C]heery, inquisitive book about a world where math, physics, cognitive science and pure geeky fanaticism intersect. While it nominally describes the author’s efforts to improve his sleight of hand and regain his self-respect, “Fooling Houdini” is more than a series of anecdotes. It’s an effort to explore the colorful subculture of magic devotees and the serious, theoretical basis for the tricks they do.
 

The Boston Globe says…

Stone has a gift for portraying the many eccentric characters who populate the magic scene, as well as the social dynamics that govern it….In addition to the many colorfully drawn, flamboyant characters, the book manages to grab and hold the reader’s attention, despite an abundance of nerdy subject matter throughout (when Stone isn’t hanging out with magicians he’s hanging out with scientists). The book explains the underpinnings of countless sorts of tricks, taking us from the wonders of the human hand to the potent psychology behind the “cold-reading” that makes mediums seem like mediums. The narrative is compelling because it comes veined with a very human question: What is truth?

That may sound too philosophical for such a fun memoir, but when Stone invokes this question it comes across as pitch perfect….“Fooling Houdini’’ sits firmly in the subgenre of A.J. Jacobs’s “The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World’’ and Ethan Gilsdorf’s “Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks’’ — tales about a certain breed of funny, nerdy, highly literate man explaining his obsessions. And like these books, it quickly draws you in, making you suddenly care about a subject to which you might not have given five seconds of thought before you started to read.

 

Amazon says…

Amazon Best Books of the Month, June 2012: Before reading this book, I thought magic was a little inane. The magicians of my memory wore capes and makeup. They pulled doves from their hats and deployed a lot of smoke. But in Fooling Houdini, Alex Stone reveals a world far deeper and fascinating than I ever imagined. After failing at the Magic Olympics in Stockholm, Stone gets serious about the art of illusion. He attends magic schools and seeks out one of the best “card mechanics” in the world. Along the way, he learns how criminal empires were built on age-old magic scams. He studies the art of mind-reading. And he explains how magicians exploit cognitive blind spots to make the impossible happen in public. He pursues every dark nook of the magic world in pursuit of the ultimate goal – a routine so mindboggling that it would fool other master magicians. Does he succeed? I’d tell you the answer, but that would ruin the magic. —Benjamin Moebius

 

Publishers Weekly says…

Entranced by magic tricks at age five, science journalist Stone argues that stage magic “lets us suspend adulthood and retrieve… the childlike sense of astonishment that fades as we age.” Having taken “an almost perverse joy in stupefying [the] illustrious faculty” at Columbia, where he received a master’s in physics, Stone began to discover “connections between magic and science,” and this book explores those linkages in depth. Beginning in Stockholm with the 2006 World Championship of Magic, he attended a Society of American Magicians initiation and visited Tannen’s, the New York City store where magicians share secrets. Seeking formal training, Stone arrived in Vegas for classes at the Magic and Mystery School, returning to New York for intense sessions with a sleight-of-hand expert in false shuffles and card cheats. 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. Stone also details how he made enemies when he violated the magician’s code of secrecy by revealing tricks in a Harper’s article. With many fascinating anecdotes up his sleeve, Stone conjures an entertaining book.

 

Booklist says…

This book is much more than it appears to be. It’s a memoir about the author’s efforts to become a worldclass magician; it’s a lively introduction to the subculture of magic (the kind practiced by stage magicians, that is, not occultists); it’s an exploration of the links between magic and the sciences (which are not as tenuous as you might think); and it’s a portrait of some quite interesting characters, including the narrator, Stone, who pursued a Ph.D in physics at the same time he was studying magic, and Wes James, a veteran sleight-of-hand master who was Yoda to Stone’s Luke Skywalker (and who also holds a Ph.D, in computer science). The author uses magic, which relies on making the audience think they’re seeing one thing while something entirely different is going on, as a jumping-off point to probe the ways in which we perceive the ordinary world and how we often, and mostly subconsciously, allow our perceptions to be colored by our expectations. A very entertaining book for budding magicians, students of psychology and neuroscience, and anyone who lands at various points in between. —David Pitt

 

Kirkus Reviews says…

A physics scholar explores how the combination of science, magic and real life stirred his inner magician.
Stone begins his kaleidoscopic tour through the world of illusion at the 2006 World Championships of Magic in Stockholm, where be beheld tricks of the trade that soon became more life altering than spectacle. A self-described “nerdy and unsocialized” only child, the author was 5 when his father, an eccentric geneticist, gave him a magic kit from F.A.O. Schwarz, which provided him a real-world escape and a perpetual fascination. In a memoir studded with historical factoids, charming anecdotes and a variety of behind-the-curtain insider secrets to classic magic tricks, Stone serves as a winsome tour guide through several wizardly institutions where he gleaned a magical education. After a disastrously amateurish onstage flop, meetings at the Society of American Magicians restored the author’s wounded confidence, as did time at a magic school in Las Vegas, an instructional apprenticeship with master illusionist Wesley James, shadowing Manhattan’s Canal Street hustlers, and even a stint at clown school. He enthusiastically describes the delicate mechanics of wristwatch stealing, cardsharping and finger calisthenics. Stone’s first attempt at exposing trade secrets (an unspoken industry no-no) appeared in a 2008 Harper’s article that drew vehement criticism and practically shunned the author from the magical community altogether. Juicy bits aside, there’s plenty of eye-opening knowledge on display for those inclined to discover what lies behind the curtain. Magically engrossing.

 

Library Journal says…

Most people enjoy a good magic show, and although the audience knows that the illusions aren’t real, who doesn’t love being fooled? In this well-written memoir, freelance writer Stone takes readers inside the world of magic and magicians as well as his own struggles to achieve mastery of the discipline and to find his own voice within its culture. He takes side excursions into modern theories of cognition to demonstrate the interplay of magic and psychology. Without revealing the secrets of the craft, he explains how the performer can seem to work miracles without his sleight of hand being detected. As with most legitimate writers on these matters, he is quick to expose those charlatans, mentalists, and crooked card players who use magicians’ techniques to fleece the gullible. However, his emphasis is on the amount of effort required to make everything look effortless, which is the essence of the art. VERDICT An engrossing work on a popular topic for magic lovers; recommended. —Harold D. Shane, formerly with Baruch Coll., CUNY