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
The late, lamented Scottish writer Iain Banks (previously) was several kinds of writer, but one of his main claims to fame is his role in developing the idea of fully automated luxury communism, in his beloved Culture novels, a series of wildly original space operas about a post-singularity, post-scarcity cooperative galactic civilization devoted to games, […]
I’ve always been intrigued by cults. The idea that someone would be willing to give up everything: their wealth, family connections, personality or livelihood, to be a part of something presumably greater, something more all-consuming than religion, fascinated me. I knew, at some point, I’d want to write about it. I didn’t get the chance until I started my fourth crime novel, Blackout, which hits in May from Polis Books—the latest in a Miami crime series featuring recovering alcoholic private investigator Pete Fernandez.
Beneath the Sugar Sky is the third novella in Seanan McGuire's wonderful Wayward Children series, following from 2016's Every Heart a Doorway and 2017's Down Among the Sticks and Bones, chronicling the lives of the children who've accidentally returned from the magical kingdoms they adventured in, who haunt Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children praying that the door to their true homes will return and they can vanish into it forever.
Surfing on public Wi-Fi is convenient, but it’s far from safe. Whether you’re at a cafe or hotel, connecting to an unsecured network exposes you—and your personal information—to a host of hazards, including hackers, government spies, and trackers. Private Internet Access helps you navigate past these risks and tap into a safer, restriction-free internet, and […]
The web is vast, and while there’s room for everyone, competition is stiff when it comes to landing on that first page of a Google search. That’s why developers aren’t afraid to spend exorbitant amounts of time and money on search engine optimization (SEO) to ensure their sites rank higher than others. However, not all […]
Many of us enjoy the aesthetic of vintage electronics, but trying to use most hardware from the 1950’s isn’t necessarily practical. This is especially true where speakers are concerned. While most of us can appreciate the old-school feel of retro speakers, they have a hard time matching the convenience and power delivered by today’s Bluetooth speakers. […]