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on 30 July 2012
A book about the ambitious card & mind of a magician who seems proud to be a geek - and vice versa! Not a collection of effects but a cornucopia of conjuring that folds in tales of dupes, dysfunction, illusions and disillusionment; of success, failure, physics, shuffles, scams, exposures, mathematics and much, much more... I loved it and imagine anyone who wants to pay more attention to that man behind the curtain will do so likewise.
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on 8 November 2012
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I have been a performing magician for 30+ years, and I found Stone's bumbling journey through the world of magicians and their nerdiness hilarious. I also liked his dedication to trying to improve his performance, his descriptions of other magicians and their ways - and it even put me on a trail to a new magic trick.

But note that it is *not* a book *on* magic (which is what a reviewer in "The New Yorker" rather stupidly thought). It is a travelogue through magic clubs, conventions, and associated arts. In my mind, its analog is "Alex's Adventures in Numberland", which narrates a similar journey through mathematics.

My main criticism of the book is that it does not contain references. Agreed the author states that they're on his website, but when examined I couldn't find the references I was looking for - for all I know, some of the text and stories could be completely anecdotal. As an ex-scientific researcher and current technical author, I found this incredibly frustrating.

In spite of this, however, I would recommend it - though perhaps not to some of the "jeremiahs" of The Magic Circle.
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on 8 November 2012
Really interesting book on the people who spend most of their lives on coin and card manipulation. I'm not a fan of street magicians like David Blaine or "Dynamo" because of their lack of presentation but "Fooling Houdini" gives me a look behind the immense amount of work that goes behind even the most basic sleight or coin roll. I would really like to see a similar book on the stage illusionists.
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on 13 November 2012
I am a medical practitioner. I am knowledgeable about neuroscience in a clinical sphere. This book is non-technical. Neuroscience concepts (sleight of hand, distraction, counter-stimulation) are described in their most basic form. Watch removal ("How to Steal a Watch") is a classic example of how these neuroscientific principles are applied in practice. Incidentally, a Rolex is the hardest to 'steal.'

The strength of the book lies is in its easy style, anecdotal story-telling and much subtle wit. The Magic Circle is described in some detail. It is no different from other professional bodies guarding their secrets.

The book has no reference list. However, Googling the profuse references strewn throughout the book brings up a volume of material to explore further. The absence of a reference list is understandable given the Magic Circle's code of conduct - You can tell, but must not explain. This is a minor hurdle, except that searching is difficult unless you have access to an electronic copy. (I prefer the hard copy).

I bought an additional copy for my relative, an accountant. Needless to say, he devoured it with great relish.
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on 24 March 2014
As a magician myself, I very much enjoyed Fooling Houdini. As others have pointed out, this isn’t a magic book to teach you tricks: it’s an exploration and analysis of the state of the magical arts. As such, it is hardly objective – but then this is a memoir, not a textbook, and the narrator is not expected to be impartial.

The story charts the author’s progress from brash novice, inexplicably thrust into the limelight long before he’s ready for it, to more experienced conjuror with (most of) the awkward corners knocked off him. It’s an entertaining ride but by no means a superficial one. At each stop along the way, Alex gives us the historical, scientific and sociological context for whatever it is he’s learning in that phase and discusses contemporary research in the relevant field. This and the fact he is a good writer give Fooling Houdini a satisfying depth.

This book is for people with a serious interest in the mechanics and theory of magic and also, I would say, in performing magic. I hesitate to recommend it to everybody, partly because a lot of it is quite esoteric and might not be interesting to those unfamiliar with the norms and eccentricities of the world of magic and magicians. But my principal reservation is that it gives away secrets I believe should not be laid out so openly for a lay readership. Alex explains his reasons for doing so and I respect his point of view, but I disagree with it.

Fooling Houdini lifts the lid on an arcane global subculture. Although in my opinion the author has let in a bit too much light, for anyone considering becoming part of that world, this enjoyable tale-cum-treatise is a great way to find out more about the traditions, ideas and issues that pervade it.
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on 1 March 2013
This book is autobiographical in style and easy-to-read. It explains the author's journey in the field of performing magic, beginning with his early unsuccessful attempts to gain recognition. As the book progresses, various magical elements are introduced and explained against a background of his personal situation at the time. Finally, the author describes his own trick which is based partly on these elements (which having read this far the reader should by now understand) and partly on his own invention which remains a mystery and hence, as the book's title suggests, might indeed be capable of "fooling Houdini" if the eponymous magician were still alive,
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on 4 August 2013
A mix of memoir, cultural history and psychology, 'FD' follows a rather poor amateur conjourer (and PhD physics student) as he practices his craft, meets some of today's great performers, and explains how 'sleight of hand' is really 'sleight of mind'. Filled with insightful portraits of obsessives dedicated to the most arcane skills (including the blind card sharp who performs entirely through touch), it's an affectionate study of a sub-culture that taps into a deep well in the human psyche - the desire to be astonished.
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on 17 July 2013
This seems to be written for professional magicians or those deeply interested in magic as a subject. Sadly I am not one,and I did not learn much about the promised nature of perception or receive any insights into human nature, as I had hoped to do. Perhaps a member of the Magic Circle would enjoy it more than I did. I think I'll stick with Derren Brown's memoirs.
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on 9 December 2013
Alex manages to provide a combination of an interesting story with great ways of describing complex ideas in physics and maths whilst stunning you with things you did not know about magic, card games and maths
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I have to confess that on starting this book I had the wrong end of the stick. I had thought it was a novel based around the life of young magician; a book not unlike Marius Brill's excellent How to Forget, a book I loved.

It started promisingly; our hero is at an international magic competition, where he vies to become magic's Olympic champion. He fails in a humiliating fashion, returns home, tail between his legs, and gives up magic forever. After taking a position in a physics lab, he gradually finds himself drawn back into a murky world of sleight of hand and three card monte.

The more I read, the more dissatisfied I became. The story didn't seem to be moving very fast and each chapter felt more like factual description of a facet of the magic world. I read the back of the book, 'Magic/Psychology'. I read the blurb, 'Stone reveals the principles and history of some of the greatest tricks ever performed'.

Oh. It IS a factual description of the magical world. Non fiction, not fiction! With this rather important realisation made, I could settle down and really enjoy the book.

'Performing magic puts you in the awkward position of having to deceive the very people whose approval you seek to win.'

Fooling Houdini is more than just descriptions and explanations of well-worn tricks. There is lots of insightful information about the psychology of magic, in respect to both performers and audience. Stone suggests that the draw of magic is that it allows us to feel like children again. The idea that the suspension of natural laws makes us question the world around us is a powerful one. We are filled with wonder at the unknown. Magic is a deception that rejuvenates us.

Stone is an articulate companion; an obsessive but self-aware, geeky practitioner of sleight of hand. His self-effacing prose style is engaging. The book is interesting throughout, peppered with information that elevates it towards something special. In magic we find more than a little of what makes the world tick.

I particularly enjoyed the sections about magic and science. Once, the two disciplines went hand in hand, but now they make uneasy bedfellows. Stone shows how one can inform the other. There is some simple yet elegant maths, that whilst counterintuitive make perfect sense. It will ensure that you never look at a deck of cards the same way again. This, combined with some touching portraits of the art's biggest characters, makes Fooling Houdini a very good read. You'll like this. A lot.
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