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Sleights of Mind: What the neuroscience of magic reveals about our brains [Paperback]

Susana Martinez-Conde , Stephen Macknik , Sandra Blakeslee
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 Feb 2011

What can magic tell us about ourselves and our daily lives? If you subtly change the subject during an uncomfortable conversation, did you know you are using attentional 'misdirection', a core technique of magic? And if you have ever bought an expensive item you had sworn never to buy, you were probably unaware that the salesperson was, like an accomplished magician, a master at creating the 'illusion of choice'.

Founding neuroscientists Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde meet with magicians from all over the world to explain how the magician's art sheds light on consciousness, memory, attention and belief. They combine cutting-edge scientific research with startling insights into the tricks of the magic trade. By understanding how magic manipulates the processes in our brains, we can better understand how we work - in fields from law and education to marketing, health and psychology - for good and for ill.

Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (3 Feb 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 1846683890
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846683893
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 13.4 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 340,258 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


One of the best books I've read on how the brain actually works ... And the back story, of two boffins trying to become magicians - and succeeding! - is great too (William Leith Evening Standard)

A terrific read, combining science, neurology, and magic - not an easy trick, but the authors have done a brilliant job of putting a mirror up to ourselves. I loved it. (Joe Navarro, author of 'What Every Body is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-reading People')

Magic is the place where our senses and beliefs fail us in magnificent ways. In this exciting book Stephen, Susana, and Sandra explore what magic and illusions can teach us about our fallible human nature -- coming up with novel and fascinating observations. (Dan Ariely, author of 'Predictability Irrational')

Sleights of Mind has discovered why magic works - by exploring how magicians test the limits of human senses to create magic effects. It's fantastic -- probably the most important magic book I have ever read. I love it. (Kevin McMahon, Artistic Director, Edinburgh International Magic Festival)

An entertaining introduction to the psychology of illusion (Richard Wiseman Focus)

Underlines how our perception of reality - far from being a reliable resource - is at best a series of shortcuts and presumptions shaped by evolution (Sunday Business Post)

Brilliantly simple and wonderfully engaging (Sunday Times)

Book Description

A unique and fascinating look at the relationship between magic, the brain, and everyday life.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magic Meets Neuroscience 27 Mar 2011
Being an amateur magician myself along with having an interest in psychology, this book was a must-buy. I had initial reservations as to whether the book may be too complex or too simple both in terms of magic and psychology, but Macknik and Martinez-Conde really strike a nice balance. Each chapter focuses on a specific type of magic trick or effect and aims to give a clear and concise explanation as to what physical reaction this has on our brains and the way we perceive reality.
There are a number of reasons why this book is successful. Firstly, the authors' style is informal and likeable and the aim is always to inform rather than confuse with any unnecessary technical information. Secondly, it is clear that through the writing of the book the authors have really developed a deep respect and love of magic (they hadn't seen a magic show beforehand) which allows the book to flow as the links between magic and neuroscience become clear and meaningful. Finally, every time a new magic trick is referenced there is a well-written description of the effect along with a 'spoiler alert' which gives an explanation of the secrets behind the method. Also many of the tricks are available to watch on the authors' website which really helps you understand what the effects look like if you don't have any magic experience.
Overall I would really recommend this book for magicians and those interested in psychology or neuroscience, or if like me you enjoy both, then you should buy it immediately.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive slights of mind 18 April 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
From a magicians point of view I really enjoyed this book.
The 'magic revealed' sections are interesting if you are not a magician but nothing to get too excited about if you perform magic - they certainly dont tell you all the slights and moves like a magic scipt of instructional book.
The extracts from key magicians and scientists were very insightful and interesting - also very useful ideas which I have encorperated into my performances.
This book talks about framing, misdirection, timing and use of language - all of which I think we as magicians use but may not necessarily know why and how to improve upon them.

Not the easiest of reads as its written from a scientist tone in the main part but well worth it.
Ian Brennan
(Prefessional Magician in the West Midlands)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slightly too light, never mind 18 July 2011
By R Kenny
In general this is a good read. I quite enjoyed it, although it did not reveal anything startlingly new. It is popular science, so don't expect anything too in-depth.

There is a good list of references in the back though, so you can follow stuff up in more detail if you want.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
As far as pop science books this is way light, the authors are neuroscientists, but the book could be easily written by an amateur. Ok, theoretically one could say that about most books for non-specialists but there's something in many popular science books, perhaps the clarity of language and thought, that suggests the author is indeed an expert. Not here.

Practically, to describe the book, it goes more or less like this in every section:

a) Brief self-referential story about the authors, sometimes involving this or that random scientific, social or entertainment event they arranged (with some scientific pretext). We learn about the authors' website, the husband's projects, about the wife's Spanish background, thesis and pregnancy and other such things (again there's a loose pretext which connects to attention or perception usually. In fairness, the personal parts are not extensive, usually a few lines or sentences but they occur very often and are dispersed throughout most sections of the book).

b) Description of magician (looks, demeanour etc. Favorite description: "he looks like a cross between the seductive French president Nicolas Sarkozy and the swashbuckling actor Errol Flynn". Seductive... Perception is indeed an overly complex issue!)

c) Description of magician's typical act

d) Explanation of how it happened

e) The neuroscience of how it happened

It's a good structure but it's spoiled by two things.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
I have always loved those shows which tell you how tricks are done, now I have found out how my brain helps magicians to fool me. Like Oliver Sacks or VS Ramachandran the authors are make neuroscience seem simple, and yet fascinating. Lots of tricks are revealed - but they give you fair warning in case you don't want to be disillusioned. Actually I was perhaps even more impressed by magicians after I read the book, because they have to work so hard to learn to make it all seem so easy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Science catches up with magic 4 Aug 2013
By Fred
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Right in the middle of my second reading of this book (the first being a few years ago) and I'm rediscovering how great a job the authors do in linking the neuroscience to the way magicians "hack" our brains.

The authors exhibit the kind of sense of wonder that is at the heart of the scientific enterprise. They do a good job of outlining how some magic tricks work and in doing so they show how easily our brains are deceived.

The authors are fuelled by by the amazement that they are just learning what magicians intuitively arrived at more than a 100 years previous. This amazement translates quite nicely and makes the book an enjoyable read for those fascinated by magic, the mind and how modern neuroscience is informing the discussion.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book! Thoroughly enjoyed reading and picking up tricks ...
A great book! Thoroughly enjoyed reading and picking up tricks used. Was disappointed when I came to the end - would like to have carried on reading more on the subject. Read more
Published 2 months ago by GSC
4.0 out of 5 stars revelatory
maybe, just a few omission or mistakes, but in general, quite a book. looking forward to them hopefully getting interested in hypnosis the same way and doing a similar book. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Leyo
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
This book really appealed to the scientist in me, it was very readable and well written. I enjoyed the fact that the authors explained the science but then showed how magicians... Read more
Published 7 months ago by J. Nicholl
5.0 out of 5 stars How easily we are fooled....
Magic explained! Again, very readable. Interesting to understand some basic facts about how our minds can be so easily fooled into believing almost anything. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Jim Butler-Daulby
5.0 out of 5 stars Slights of mind
A fascinating read learning about the psychology behind the magic. Well worth a read if your in to either and a few tricks to try out to.
Published 16 months ago by Scott Crawford
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Choice
This book was every bit as fascinating and informative as I hoped it would be. Definitely to be recommended. I was not disappointed.
Published 17 months ago by Joel
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
This book is terrific! Through it's format it kills two birds with one stone. It teaches you about the awesome principals and techniques which magicians use in constructing their... Read more
Published 18 months ago by William Axtell
5.0 out of 5 stars Appeals to the Magician and the Scientist
I loved this book! If you're interested in magic and you have a scientific mind, it marries both beautifully. You think your brain works in a way that you can trust? Read more
Published 19 months ago by Richard in Bucks
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read, clear and entertaining
A very interesting read, lots of examples and keeps you reading with the way it's laid out. Of interest to magicians and anyone who wants to know how we perceive things. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Andrew Stonebridge
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, however I have come across much of the subject matter...
It was interesting, but I had come across much of the subject matter before. However, there was still enough that I had not previously seen to make it a pleasant read.
Published 21 months ago by K. Rayment
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