Monday, November 12, 2012

"Fooling Houdini" by Alex Stone

Like many, I suppose, I had a very brief flirtation with magic as a kid. I must have received the magic kit for a birthday (it seems like a grandparent gift) sometime in elementary school, and I spent some time fooling with the plastic magic wand and other assorted tricks the box contained. At some point I reached an unwarranted level of confidence and even put on a show for my neighbors--albeit a show where one trick actually required the audience to close their eyes as I made a ball "disappear" by hiding it behind the grill. That show was the end of my magic career.

Nonetheless, in Fooling Houdini, Stone has a point when he argues that magic is something that appeals to many of us, as audience or performer, but that there's something special in being able to fool and delight another person. With that in mind, Fooling Houdini explores various wide-ranging topics related to the fooling and delighting that is magic: early and modern con games; the psychology of fooling; the magic of mindreading; the importance of touch in performing magic; the importance placed on secrecy; the shuffle; the role of mathematics. The book isn't always completely focused (it reminded me some of Ronson's The Psychopath Test in that way), but it is interesting. Stone also reveals the processes behind a number of magic tricks (mostly card tricks, his specialty), which I enjoyed, as I agree with Stone that knowing the science behind a trick doesn't diminish the awe of seeing it performed any. For me the parts focused on magic specifically were more interesting than the chapters on psychology only because I've read so many other books (Thinking Fast and Slow, Moonwalking with Einstein, The Mind's Eye) that address the psychology of the human mind more thoroughly.

Once I finished, the book Fooling Houdini reminded me the most of was Foer's Moonwalking with Einstein, which is even mentioned and referenced in Stone's book. Like Foer, Stone begins and ends his book with a competition--a memory competition for Foer, a close-up magic competition for Stone. Both men also center their books and their exploration of their topics through the personal lens of training and improving their craft. For this reason, almost as much of Fooling Houdini is about Stone's personal quest to find his place as a magician as it is about magic in general. Depending on how much you invest in Stone's journey may affect how much you enjoy the book; I found his personal story a bit uninteresting in the beginning, though it grew on me by the end.

Though the book is probably too simplistic for people who have studied magic or psychology, it is an easy dip into many of the unknowns related to magic.

No comments:

Post a Comment