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on 1 December 2006
Needless to say, anyone in Derren Brown's profession who wrote a book reavealing everything about how they work wouldn't last very long. What is remarkable about this book is that it actually reveals quite a lot. No, he doesn't explain how each trick works (as if!) but there is plenty here to interest the curious among us.

If you want some tips on hypnotism, which he describes as the product of effective suggestion rather than a unique trance-like state, feats of memory or straightforward conjuring (something I suspect he uses much more of in his routines than he'd like you to think), there is a great deal of information provided. If we read it and practise what it reveals (that's the bit most of us are not prepared to do because it takes for ever), any of us could invent some pretty neat tricks of our own. Insofar as anyone will write a 'how to' guide on hypnotising your friends, this is probably as close as we're going to get.

Some may not like the book's mixture of tips, autobiographical anecdotes and polemic about how easily fooled people are and how they really will believe almost anything. Admittedly, these elements don't always come together all that smoothly, but they do all reveal a lot about the man, his view of the world and what he thinks of the whole school of 'you can fool most of the people a lot of the time' opportunists (hucksters, charlatans, salesmen and camp Northern psychics of every stripe).

The book's structure may be flawed, but its honesty is the ace up its sleeve - not bad in a profession based on fooling people.
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on 25 June 2010
Like most people, I have a vague interest in the coulisses of stage magic, but no wish ever to stand up and do it. However, I'd rather like to know how it's done. Derren Brown, for his part, makes a living as a professional conjuror, and therefore depends for his continued livelihood on not giving too much away. Still, he wants to entertain us, and sell his book. How far does he succeed?

Pretty well, on the whole, is the answer. "Tricks of the Mind" is part confessional/autobiographical, part meditation on the many perennial ways a brain can be fooled, and part description of the mental arsenal that a conjuror must acquire - a chapter leading by degrees through useful and easy memory tricks up to the focussed discipline by which a conjuror can, ultimately, memorise the order of an entire shuffled pack of cards. Which goes to show us that some effects can't be picked up from a pamphlet in the course of an evening, but, on the contrary, are - in the words of the professional gambler - "damned hard money."

Brown's early steps into conjuring, we learn, came at university. A bright, maverick, restless student, he was given to anarchic hoaxes which can't have helped his coursework much, but which have proved a great rehearsal for his career. He started trying to hypnotise his friends. For my money this is the best part of the book.

Have you ever wondered what goes on in the mind of a stage hypnotist? Here's the answer. Brown seems at once fascinated, conflicted, and slightly paranoid at the thought that people do seem to grant him (or at any rate act as though they'd granted him) a surreal degree of control. Are they winding him up? Is it his Svengali-like influence? A heightened sort of role-playing? He explores the various theories of the hypnotic state, its capabilities. People fall asleep suddenly, they undergo surgery without anaesthetic; and I'd also add they can be captivated by storytellers ... or galvanised into madness by a screaming dictator. Granted, we now know that no mystical force is emanating from the hypnotist, so presumably, the hypnotic state must originate within the subject himself - but could it originate in solitude? I don't think so, and neither I suspect does Brown. The hypnotist must be, at the very least, a catalyst. So how far can the hypnotist be held responsible? What do we mean by a trance state anyhow? After hypnosis, Brown probes his subjects further - how much did they feel they were in control? What did they experience? - but afterwards begins to worry that a good hypnotic subject might seek to co-operate by giving answers that the hypnotist wanted to hear. Who's fooling whom? I bet Christopher Nolan could make a whole movie out of this. I'd pay to see it. Though you might find it revealing, as I did, that Brown has apparently chosen not to find out the answer simply by undergoing hypnosis himself.

Subsequent chapters deal with the "Tricks of the Mind" of the title. There's a section on NLP, which, reassuringly, turns out to be not nearly as sinister as it sounds (it reminded me a bit of "The Game" by Neil Strauss). There's a layman's overview of Scientific Method (with a somewhat idealised view of what actually goes on in the lab); there's a chapter on how we humans, even scientists, usually guess wrong when it comes to statistics; there's a section on New Age remedies, and one on fraudulent mediums and psychics. All very commendable, although there is one thing that jars throughout, and it is this. At university, it seems, Brown fell in with a charismatic wing of the Christian Union, and is now going through a phase of militant apostasy, a bit like St Paul in reverse. This is clearly a major preoccupation with him, and takes up a fair bit of the book, recurring frequently. Exasperatingly, the anti-theism extends as far as the bibliography - so Francis Wheen is in there, but there's no mention of the late, great Martin Gardner, amateur conjurer, recreational mathematician, and author of the classic, seminal text, "Fads and Fallacies".

Towards the end of the book, I'd more or less made up my mind to give it a four star review - five stars for being entertaining, and for the chapter on hypnosis, minus one star for the public crisis of faith, and the wit which sometimes feels a bit scripted. I was thinking maybe I should check out the TV show. Brown represented himself (especially in the fake psychics section) as being averse to the seamy side of the media that seeks to drag mad or inadequate people out into the glare of the spotlight for a few moments of public entertainment. So it's a pity that right at the end, he can't resist doing the same, by sharing with us some of the loopier contents of his mailbox. Look, readers! What a load of crazy wackoes! Side splitting or what? This, to me, is hypocrisy. Three and a half stars.
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VINE VOICEon 28 November 2007
In which the celebrated TV showman and 'mentalist' reveals (some of) the tricks of his trade, plus a selection of tips and mind hacks that anyone would find useful.

Along the way he gives us a whistle-stop tour of magic, memory techniques (an excellent introduction), hypnosis (with a bit about NLP), unconscious communication and 'cold reading, and pseudo-science and sloppy thinking.

Naturally, being an NLP trainer, it was the bit about NLP I turned to first. Derren attended a large course on which Richard Bandler was one of the trainers (with 'four hundred or so delegates, some of whom were clearly either unbalanced or self-delusory') which he found 'highly evangelical'. He says it was a four-day course so it can't have been Paul McKenna's (unless Derren developed amnesia for some of the days) as this lasts for seven, as far as I know. Nevertheless, he likes NLP enough to include some nifty NLP self-help techniques (subtle mirroring and various submodality interventions including the phobia cure, mapping across and a couple of variations on the swish pattern for motivation and confidence) with step-by-step instructions.

By the way, if you only read one bit of the book, make it the 'Confusion and Self-Defence' section at the end of the hypnosis chapter - not only is it very funny, it could save your life some day.

The underlying attitude running through the book is one of skepticism - particularly about professional psychics and mediums. Given his background - an evangelical Christian in his teens, becoming disillusioned with it as he got into stage hypnotism and magic - it's not surprising that he's a skeptic. Having first-hand experience of how a circular belief system leads to an insistence on one particular interpretation of 'reality' while discounting all others, plus a professional's command of the tools and tricks of mental deception, will do that to you.

The final section of the book, on 'anti-science, pseudo-science, and bad thinking' is excellent - a skewering of alternative medicine, cold-reading tricks used by charlatans, and the 'thinking traps' that seem to be almost hard-wired into our thought processes, leading us to see patterns where there are none in coincidences and making some people a magnet for scamsters.

The writing style is delightful - self-deprecating and very funny. I hadn't actually seen that many of Derren's TV shows (no, I'm not on first-name terms with him, but reading this book will make you feel like he's your mate) but I'm now a confirmed fan.

Buy this book if a) you're interested in the techniques he uses in his stage and TV shows, b) you want to improve your memory and confidence, c) you want to get better at thinking or d) you want a good laugh.
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on 6 November 2008
If you are even slightly interested in the methods Derren uses in his shows then you should give this book a read, of course he doesn't reveal everything the book would be huge!

He covers simple card and coin magic, memory, hypnosis, unconscious communication and pseudo-science and branches into various categories within these chapters. He tells you everything you need to know on a basic level but then gives a reading list if you are particularly interested in finding out more information which I think is very good as my general search on here found quite a few disappointing looking books and I wasn't sure where to find reliable and decent information.

He gives you tricks to try as well as a lot of history and stories from his own life, I found the book incredibly interesting and saw myself taking time out of my day to read it until I had finished it cover to cover. He does all this with good humour and I found myself laughing out loud at certain points throughout. Ultimately you find out how hard he actually has worked in researching and developing the skills he has and how with enough effort put in other people could pick these skills up too, he isn't some sort of creepy magician always trying to read people, he is an ordinary guy who really has worked at this and has amazing talent at it.
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on 5 June 2008
I was a huge fan of Derren Brown before I read the book and now perhaps an even bigger one. His command of the English language is to be admired (although there was one use of the C word which was, I feel, completely unnecessary). Although the first few chapters are hard to get through the rest is a gem. I didn't agree with all he said, especially his view on 'all science is fact and everything else is rubbish'. But we are all entitled to our opinion and quite frankly the man is simply incredible. Well done Derren, great book, great TV show and great entertainment - you have clearly worked hard for years and its paid off. GET THE BOOK - IT'S WONDERFUL!
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on 9 January 2007
I haven't seen a lot of Derren Brown on TV, but after seeing a bit of his show over christmas flicked through the book in a shop. I was grabbed by the range of topics, and bought it straight away - and haven't put it down much since.

There's not a huge amount on any particular topic, to be fair, but it gives great introductions to how stage magic works, suggestion, "hypnosis", detecting lies, memory techniques, misuse of statistics/evidence, and a somewhat heavy (if justified) rant against psychics. The chapter on suggestion and hypnosis in particular was new to me and I found very interesting ... (now I just need some guinea pigs). On areas I was already familiar with, the writing did seem a bit superficial in places and I would personally would have liked a bit more meat on, say, memorisation techniques - I guess that's a necessary penalty of writing a wide-ranging book. (Derren does though provide ideas for extra reading).

There are a lot of insights into Derren himself here of course, which I guess will be of interest to fans, and the writing style is certainly entertaining.
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on 13 January 2007
First things first - if you are looking to find out the secrets of the universe - they're not in here. If you're looking for an interesting read, some background on Derren himself, and a quick taster of the skills he uses during his shows - this is thoroughly good fun.

He runs through each of the different techniques very simply, with a couple of exercises to get you started in each, throws in an (apocryphal?)anecdote or two, then points you in the direction for more information.

From the areas I know something about, the further reading section seems to be spot on with it's short reviews, and has thrown up a couple of books I intend to look into.

Sometimes it does seem a bit disjointed, and sometimes I wished he had gone into more detail in certain areas - but everyone will find their favourites.

I wanted something to get me thinking about things, and to help point me in the right direction, and I got that plus a bit of a giggle - what more can you ask for.
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on 4 February 2007
I bought this book about a week ago and within a couple of hours had finished it. I find Derren's tv shows fascinating so was eager to find out more about the methods and the man behind the mindbending.

I wasn't expecting him to reveal all about how he performs his tricks; to do so would be to do himself out of a career, but I was intrigued as to how he had ended up as a mentalist and what his belief systems are, and this book answered those questions for me.

I liked that it is written very much for the more intelligent of readers; Derren doesn't dumb down his vocabulary or opinions in order to access a wider audience, this book is firmly targeted towards those who have a serious desire to learn more about his profession.

Whilst I agree that the memory tricks aren't anything special (having already learnt the pegging system and other techniques from a memory improvement book as a child) I did enjoy the insights into how Derren achieves his cold-reading, and how he views hypnosis and the paranormal.

And the style of writing in the book is brilliant- the man is not only very clever, he also has a magnificently witty sense of humour- several times I found myself laughing out loud at his self-deprecating and sarcastic remarks.

Overall, I really liked this book. It has allowed me to get a deeper look at a public figure who appears shrouded in mystery (and hype) in the media, become educated about a few things I hadn't encountered before, such as NLP, and prompted me to re-evaluate my own beliefs and experiences in a more balanced way.

I definitely recommend it.
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VINE VOICEon 1 November 2007
The book sleeve claims it will take you on a journey into the structure and psychology of magic. However this is really more a ramble through some interesting ideas.

Derren Brown has lots to say in this book. It is worth the price just for the anecdotes - look out for the one where he stopped a violent drunk from hitting him by talking about walls.

The magic and memory tricks are mixed with his personal views. He saves the best for last, with a heart-felt attack on false mediums who prey on the vulnerable for money. This is not a slapdash book written by a celebrity cashing in on his name. The author has put a real effort to cover a wide range of topics that he has clearly been thinking about for years.

Overall I enjoyed this book. If you are looking for an interesting and entertaining way to learn more about the mind works, this is the book for you.

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on 6 March 2014
The back cover of this book says in part: “Now, for the first time, he reveals the secrets behind his craft … .” That is because I would imagine that the biggest market for this book is people wanting to know how he does his tricks. That is why I bought the book. If you’re the same – don’t buy it, you will be disappointed.

The book is however well-written and presents some excellent material. There is far too much jokey prose for my liking, but then I guess this is aimed primarily at the under-30’s (which I am not by a long way) and who no doubt appreciate that sort of language. The odd sentence here and there is fine, but Derren goes on for whole paragraphs in purely jokey style, which in my view adds nothing to the book, but no doubt helped to keep him sane while writing this ‘worthy’ tome.

It is actually (in my humble view) 5% autobiography (which was interesting enough), 5% how to do the odd very basic card trick, and 90% discussing the basics of perception, memory, hypnosis, NLP, psychic readings and so on. All this is worthy enough and probably absolutely fascinating if you’ve never come across any of this before. It’s all good, basic stuff. You will learn almost nothing however about how he does his most famous tricks. There is for example a tantalising photo in the book showing a table levitation, presumably faked in some way by Derren (that was actually my clincher to buy this book), but that’s all you get – just the photo, no explanation, no discussion, nothing. In my view, that’s naughty marketing, although probably his publisher’s fault rather than Derren’s.

The most interesting thing for me was to learn that until his late teens, Derren had been brought up as a rabid/fundamentalist/born-again/something-or-other-type Christian, which no doubt accounts for his now equally strong atheist and anti-everything-paranormal views.

It is easy to show that many so-called psychic or mediumistic phenomena are fake and can be reproduced by Derren and anyone else with purely logical techniques – cold reading, hot reading, etc. It would seem that he has done enough investigation to convince himself that ALL psychics and mediums are fake con-artists and he states this view many times throughout the book. Fair enough – to a degree. However, he makes no mention of, for example, the Society for Psychical Research (usually known as the SPR), a body founded in 1884 to investigate (NOT to prove or disprove) fields such as mediumship, hypnosis and other ‘paranormal’ areas. They have amassed a great deal of evidence since their founding, and I would have thought anyone who was so convinced that all psychic things were fake would at least have looked at some of this material and discussed it in a book like this. Likewise, the late Professor Arthur Ellison, an eminent academic, spent a lifetime researching the paranormal, again not as a ‘believer’, but as a scientist investigating interesting phenomena as a ‘hobby’. He wrote several books, ‘The Reality of the Paranormal’ being perhaps the easiest to digest. Professor Ellison, as a scientist, would agree that there are many fakes in the psychic field, but also that there are people producing genuinely interesting results – hence the title of his book.

It is fine for anyone to say “I have looked at (x) and find a lot of trickery but no evidence that satisfies me it is real”. But to cross the line of openly and repeatedly branding the entire psychic (and for that matter, alternative medicine) field as fraudulent and/or deluded is quite another, and one which demands a much higher burden of proof. Having crossed that line and branded 100% of them as frauds, Derren should not then hide behind the usual argument: “It’s up to the psychics to prove its real, not me to disprove it, you can’t prove a negative” (which he goes into, in detail, in the book). He actually seems to have fallen victim to some of the very mechanisms described in his book, of prejudice and selective thinking, that he berates ‘believers’ (in whatever) of succumbing to themselves.
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