read: 29 February 2004
It’s been hard for me to find the time to write up this book because it was just so good that it’s tough putting what I liked about it into words. For one, the author is a real pro himself, helping design tricks and illusions for some of the best known magicians out there. Second, he’s a history buff, so he’s dug around to find out some truly interesting magical history. Last, he’s a skilled storyteller. He tells you just enough about how the magicians do their tricks to keep you interested, and not so much that every trick is revealed and all secrets are uncovered. You learn some stuff, and some stuff stays a mystery.
This book traces the lives and intertwining paths of a number of magicians at the intersection of technology and mysticism. As some magicians were wowing audiences with spirirtualism, others were using smoke and mirrors to create wholly new illusions. The field of magic was changing and Steinmeyer explains the evolution of the craft, the odd personalities of the players -- including Houdini along with many other less-known but better-skilled practitioners -- and the basic building block The Trick. He explains some tricks, declines to explain others and the thread going through the book is trying to reverse engineer how Harry Houdini made an elephant disappear at the Hippodrome in NYC at the turn of the century. Fascinating and fun stuff.
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