Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind
By Alex Stone
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780061766213, 320pp.)
Publication Date: June 1, 2012
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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When Alex Stone was five years old, his father bought him a magic kit—a gift that would spark a lifelong love. Years later, while living in New York City, he discovered a vibrant underground magic scene exploding with creativity and innovation and populated by a fascinating cast of characters: from his gruff mentor, who holds court in the back of a rundown pizza shop, to one of the world's greatest card cheats, who also happens to be blind. Captivated, he plunged headlong into this mysterious world, eventually competing at the Magic Olympics and training with great magicians around the globe to perfect his craft.
From the back rooms of New York City's century-old magic societies to cutting-edge psychology labs; three-card monte on Canal Street to glossy Las Vegas casinos; Fooling Houdini recounts Stone's quest to join the ranks of master magicians. As he navigates this quirky and occasionally hilarious subculture, Stone pulls back the curtain on a community shrouded in secrecy, fueled by obsession and brilliance, and organized around a single overriding need: to prove one's worth by deceiving others.
But his journey is more than a tale of tricks, gigs, and geeks. In trying to understand how expert magicians manipulate our minds to create their astonishing illusions, Stone uncovers a wealth of insight into human nature and the nature of perception. Every turn leads to questions about how the mind perceives the world and processes everyday experiences. By investigating some of the lesser-known corners of psychology, neuroscience, physics, history, and even crime, all through the lens of trickery and illusion, Fooling Houdini arrives at a host of startling revelations about how the mind works—and why, sometimes, it doesn't.
Alex Stone has written for Harper’s, Discover, Science, and The Wall Street Journal. He lives in New York City.
“An enthralling journey into the inner world of magic. Alex Stone writes with a winning voice that you’ll want to follow anywhere.”
-Joshua Foer, author of Moonwalking with Einstein
“Alex Stone’s Fooling Houdini is a delight. In the physics Ph.D program at Columbia, he drops everything to pursue the murky world of magic. He writes with wit and scientific sharpness and grand humor. He immerses us in a fascinating world few have ever entered.”
-Buzz Bissinger, author of Father's Day and Friday Night Lights
“What I loved most about Fooling Houdini is the world it takes us into: these huddled cliques of obsessed magicians reinventing their art. . . . This book makes you want to do magic tricks, and convinces you just how hard it is to do them well.”
-Ira Glass, host of "This American Life"
“Fooling Houdini is a totally smart and engrossing study of one of America’s most misunderstood sub-cultures, and at the same time the story of one man’s quest to probe the mysteries of magic, science, and where the two meet.”
-John Hodgman, author of The Areas of My Expertise
“Fooling Houdini is an eye-opening, irresistible journey into the world of magic. Stone has written a masterful story that is bursting with energy, inventiveness, and a sense of wonder on every page. I couldn’t put it down!”
-Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics
“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. . . . There’s plenty of eye-opening knowledge on display. . . . Magically engrossing.”
“Part insider’s look at the high-stakes world of casinos and cardsharps, part scientific examination of deception, this page-turner gives an intriguing peek behind the magician’s curtain.”
“A hilarious and illuminating memoir. . . . Less a how-to guide, and more about the bizarre-personalities, the infighting and the jaw-dropping dedication and dexterity required to be a truly great magician.”
-The New York Post
“A cheery, inquisitive book about a world where math, physics, cognitive science and pure geeky fanaticism intersect. . . . This book 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.”
-Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“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.”
-The Boston Globe
“Fooling Houdini is not only informative, but highly entertaining. Stone has pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat.”
“I’ve always been intrigued by secret societies and artistic subcultures. Stone opens up the obsessive and hidden world of magicians with intelligence and sly humor.”
-Molly Ringwald, The New York Post
“An affable new book. . . . What differentiates Fooling Houdini is Stone’s determination to understand the science behind his craft.”
-The Daily Beast
“This book is clever and winning—and well written, too. In turning our attention away from the magic and towards the magicians, Stone has pulled off an excellent trick.”
-The Sunday Times (London)
“The book treats magic more as science than superstition, and here Stone’s point is well made. . . . As he shows us the limits of our logic, Stone’s enthusiasm rubs off.”
-The Financial Times
“A fascinating ramble around a subject that, Stone convincingly argues, raises all sorts of big questions about how our brains interpret the world.”
-Reader's Digest (UK)
“The funniest book I read all year.”