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Sunday, July 21, 2013

A book I enjoyed: Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible by Jim Steinmeyer

Lately most of the books I've read have been about rock music or books about creative inspiration and motivation. I wanted a break and decided to read a book about something I don't follow as avidly as my other interests. In my long list of books to some day check out I had  Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer, which I think I added to the list after seeing Teller (of Penn and Teller) reference it in article.

I'm interested in magic, but never really followed it enough to call myself a fan. Other than fumbling through a trick or two in grade school, I never went through a magic phase growing up. When I went to Marshall Brodien's Magic Shop at Old Chicago it was to buy novelties and pranks, not magic cards or props. Itching powder and the fly in the fake ice cube were more my speed over a trick I'd have to practice over and over again. But the review of this book looked promising, and with an endoresment (and introduction) from Teller I decided to check it out. I'm glad I did! A wonderful read.

A fascinating walk through the history of magic and the showmanship that went with it from the late 1800's through the end of magic's golden era in the 1930's. Although the book explains the mechanics of many great illusions, it's much more than just a "how they did it" book. There are compelling character studies of magicians and the entire magic community as well as an in-depth look at European and American theater of the era. The magicians' stories intertwine as illusions evolved and theater goer wants changed, all done with the unfolding narrative of a good novel. Author and illusion designer to the stars (including David Copperfield, Siegfried & Roy, and Doug Henning) Jim Steinmeyer also injects the mystery of an elusive trick throughout the book, explaining how the illusionist works and thinks. This is a book about people, history, and creative thinking as much as it's a book about magic.

FOUR and HALF STARS (out of five)

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