Fooling Houdini: A Deep Insight into the Concept of Magic

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Alex Stone’s love affair with magic started from a tender age when his father taught him a magic trick as a present. He engulfed himself in the art and later participated in the Stockholm 2006 Magic Olympics in which he was not only eliminated early but was humiliated. His magic did not endear him to girls as he had hoped either. He, therefore, had to choose between pursuing magic and physics. He chose the latter and enrolled for a graduate program in physics at Columbia University. However, he came to learn that his love for magic never wavered. This time around, Stone was to abandon science and pursue training in the art of Magic (Stone, ch. 1). This book’s title Fooling Houdini refers to the legendary Vernon’s fooling of Houdini in a card trick. Stone divulges the apprenticeship of the sorcerer and the journey he partakes in fulfilling his set goals of becoming a master in Magic. This time he enrols himself to train in magic aiming to become first-class magician (Stone, ch. 2). Ironically, even after abandoning science, Stone still tries to understand the scientific explanations for the antics he was performing. The author explores the nexus between magic and science using neuroscience, physics, psychology and even mathematics as he tries to understand his trade. He concludes that science and magic are inherently correlated and inseparable (Stone, ch. 3). This correlation is demonstrated by the comparison between the shuffling of playing cards and the mathematical theory of probability.

Stone takes us on a journey of exploration where we see magic at not only its peak but also the moral aspect of it. He is astonished at the backlash he received for publishing the secrets of the magician’s tricks and is therefore ostracized by fellow magicians (Stone, ch. 6). Fooling Houdini goes beyond exposing the behind the scene information by his exploration of the importance placed on secrecy by the members. It is only magicians that can share the knowledge and revealing it to the public is a boundary not many have dared to cross. The magicians’ community is constructed in lies and deception thus they deem disclosure of the information on their tricks as a threat to their trade “…was bombarded with complaints from angry magicians frothing about the code of secrecy…” (Stone, ch. 6). However, Stone is convinced that his revelation is suitable for both the magicians and the public. Like a business, he intends to use the exposure to drive innovation and modernization of magic. Apart from being mind-blowing, Fooling Houdini has a great ability to grasp and hold the reader’s attention. Considering this book is nonfiction, its ability to maintain the tension is laudable. It gives explanations for a number of tricks, starting with hand tricks and psychological potency which can make any person question the truths and believe the deceptions or vice versa. It “...lowers our gullibility threshold, making us more prone to believe the information we know is untrue” (Stone, ch. 8). Furthermore, the book’s success in maintaining the reader’s attention is due to the vivid explanation of events with scientific backing. From my view, therefore, anyone who starts reading this book will find it fascinating and entertaining. This book will quickly draw readers in, invoking their feelings of love for a subject that otherwise is unfamiliar to them.

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I would admit that fooling Houdini is a bespoke book with both quirky and imaginative. Accounts of the author on the secret societies of magic and a world of superpowers that magicians portray are invigorating. One aspect that makes the book even more interesting is the way the author weaves the narrative into the fields of science, religion, psychology, history and maths. He explains the facts so effortlessly that it seems like common sense. Nevertheless, it is engaging and interesting to figure out the connection between our love for magic and the way our brains function. The author poses, “How does the brain perceive the world and parse everyday experience?...are humans programmed to believe in the supernatural?” (Stone, ch. 1).

I was however dissatisfied by the book’s coverage of math-based tricks and mentalism. The alliterative subtopics refer to “magicians, mentalists and math geeks…” contrary to the contents which are covered therein. Close-up magic covers majority parts of the book with the mentalism and mathematical methods coming in at the tail end chapters. The percentage of the book that covers the said topics are minute. However, this does not in any way devalue the book and the impression it brings. In addition, the book is more subjective than objective. The author has spent most of the time for self-gratification and glorification; “…metamorphosing into a much cooler caterpillar.” Perhaps it’s down to him being an amateur that he reverts to self-congratulation “...I’d found the poetry in my magic”(Stone, ch. 7). This aspect of the book sells the author’s adventures as he tries to find himself. It distracts one from knowing more about magic to the life story of the author.

However, it is evident that the book is thought-provoking and accessible to the lay reader. The choice of the title is also fascinating and can make more people read it. Since the topic of magic is a popular one, having the mysteries of the trade divulged is attractive to the readers (Stone, ch. 9). Furthermore, the thought that the information can enable one to be able to do the same tricks is tempting.

In conclusion, Fooling Houdini is a fascinating book despite the few errors visible throughout the content. The book gives insight into magic and their interest in magic and deception by being misdirected. The capacity of people to believe what they know is impossible is laudable. By reading this book, therefore, the reader will be more informed and able to see facts as they are.

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