Halfway through reading Alex Stone's memoir, Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind, I read Ricky Jay's blisteringly negative review of the book in the Wall Street Journal. Cleverly titled "Slight of Hand," Jay described Stone's book as "an ostensibly self-effacing memoir by an inept amateur conjurer."
I love Ricky Jay's magic, his books, his quarterly magazine, and his performances. Jay is a talented magician and a fascinating storytelling historian of magic, con artists, and sideshows. He's certainly a more talented magician and a more knowledgable historian that Stone. And Jay rightfully calls out several errors of fact that Stone made in Fooling Houdini.
But even so, I finished Stone's book because I was fascinated by his story.
He starts by recounting his tragically humiliating disqualification at an international magic competition (he was the only magician to get "red-lighted" in the middle of a performance -- the equivalent of getting "gonged"). So ashamed was he by the unceremonious ejection from the stage that he gave up magic and pursued a post-grad degree in physics.
Eventually the lure of the conjuring arts called him back, but this time around, Stone got serious. He sought mentors, practiced incessantly, researched magic history, and read up on the psychology of deception and the limits of human perception.
Then Stone experiences his magic-related tragedy. He wrote an article about his experience at the magic competition for Harper's, in which he explained how some of the tricks were done. Fellow members of the magic society he was a member were incensed by his violation of the magician's code and tried to drum him out. Determined to defend himself, Stone hired a lawyer and was able to keep his membership. The experience seemed to make him even more determined to continue on his magical journey.
As a result of his work and research Stone became a better magician and gained respect for masters of the craft, including Jay, whom he writes of reverently in his book. When Steven Levitt of Freaknomics interviewed Stone and asked him what he thought of Jay's WSJ review, Stone said, "That guy's a legend. It's an honor even to be criticized by him."
(Clive Thompson, Joshua Glenn, and I discussed fooling Houdini on the most recent episode of Gweek.)
Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind
Daily Show writer Daniel Radosh’s son came home from school with a permission slip that he’d have to sign before the kid could read Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451, which is widely believed to be an anti-censorship book (Bradbury himself insisted that this was wrong, and that the book was actually about the evils of […]
For redheads, and people who love them, get past the slightly disturbing title and enjoy this collection of people, places, and things, all with red on top. The subjects are diverse, from movie stars to redheaded animals to L. Ron Hubbard to a recipe for carrot soup. The full-page, full-color, ink-wash illustrations are all charming […]
Today sees the publication of Bonnie Burton’s (previously) long-awaited new book, Crafting with Feminism: 25 Girl-Powered Projects to Smash the Patriarchy.
Geek Fuel is a subscription delivery service that caters to those of us that love comics, gaming, and general geek culture. Every month, Geek Fuel will assemble a box of goodies with a value of $50 or over. The specific items are a mystery, but you’ll always get an exclusive t-shirt not found anywhere else, a full […]
If you like to DIY and you like helicopters, you’re going to really love the Flexbot Hexacopter Kit. This copter blows traditional models out of the water: it includes everything you need to actually build your own hexacopter, and then pilot it like a pro, too.The construction is complicated enough to give you a challenge, […]
This week’s top deals from the Boing Boing Store range from lobster to wine to desk organization. 1. Get Maine Lobster (50% Off)With these discounted packages from Get Maine Lobster, you can experience the sweet, fresh flavor of world-renowned Maine lobster right at your own dinner table. There are four options to choose from, each at […]