Fooling Houdini in the 793s

January 27, 2018 Uncategorized 19 ★★★★

Fooling Houdini in the 793sTitle: Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind
Author: Alex Stone

Summary: The author of this memoir sometimes rubbed me the wrong way, but I enjoyed hearing about an interesting subculture with fun tangents on science and history.

This story of author Alex Stone’s attempt to become a master magician reminded me of a stunt memoir, like The Happiness Project, or of Mary Roach’s books (although less humorous). Like these books, the author meets with fascinating people and tries off-beat approaches to learning more about his topic. He also couples descriptions of his experience with fascinating tidbits of relevant science and history.

This book ticked a lot of boxes for me. I love learning about interesting careers and subcultures and the world of the professional magician is certainly both. I also have always enjoyed stunt memoirs, hearing about someone having a lot of unusual experiences as they work to accomplish a goal. And I can’t say no to a book full of fun science and history facts, especially when a lot relate to the way the human mind works. I really liked all of those aspects of this book.

I had mixed feelings about the author that did influence how I experienced the book. Some of his mannerisms, particularly the use of casual phrases that felt out of place, bothered me enough to interrupt the flow of the book. I also have to admit that I didn’t like him very much at the beginning. It seemed he’d not devoted the effort to being good at anything in his life. At the beginning, even his attempts to do magic were lazy at best. The positive side of that is that he had a really nice character arc throughout the story, experiencing some personal growth as he finally did put a lot of effort into one thing. This was a small part of the reading experience though and the author’s engaging writing about topics that appeal to me generally made this a fun read.

PS, if you were wondering about the post title – I’ve been naming review posts after the type of book they are for awhile and lately I’ve been reading so much nonfiction that just ‘Nonfiction Review’ didn’t feel descriptive enough. I’ve also not written a lot recently about my long-term project to read one book per Dewey Decimal number, but I’ve been reminded that I used to name my reviews after their Dewey Decimal number by Arya at Arya’s Fangirl Lexicon, who has just started trying to read one book per Dewey Decimal number herself.

PPS, if you’re looking to read more about magic, you must check out Katherine’s blog The Writerly Reader. She writes great reviews of books on the topic and as soon as I saw this book on my shelves at the library, I knew to check if she’d reviewed it before picking it up!

19 Responses to “Fooling Houdini in the 793s”

  1. Kim@Time2Read

    The book sounds interesting, but I probably won’t add it to my list.
    I like how you incorporated the Dewey Decimal number into the title of your post!

  2. Veronica

    That sounds like a really interesting read, so it’s too bad it fell short in some areas. I’ll have to keep it in mind if I’m in the mood for some kind of light, not terribly deep memoir.

  3. Anna @ The Bibliotaph

    I’m intrigued by this book (and the beautiful cover), but I’m not sure I’d like it if it’s too similar to Mary Roach’s books. While I always learn a lot from her books, her conversational tone is difficult for me to adjust to – most non-fiction I read is a lot more academic and the author doesn’t insert themself into the book as much.
    Thank you so much for your review! I never would have heard about this book otherwise and it gave me a very clear description of what it’d be like to read:)

    • DoingDewey

      The author of this book wasn’t as funny as Mary Roach, but he was at least as conversational. The little joking phrases he threw in sometimes bothered me and like Mary Roach, so it does sound like this might not be the best fit for you 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      I have to admit, I didn’t cut him any slack for not starting out as a writer! I guess as someone who has written a book, I’d consider him a professional writer and expect the same level of quality as I do from anyone else 🙂

  4. Katherine

    I read this pretty early in my exploration of magic and the part that worked for me was Stone’s memoir aspect. I wanted more out the crunchy science-y bits. Interestingly regarding the subculture: from what I’ve read from magicians via Reddit, the book and Stone aren’t well regarded, mainly due to that early laziness. Magicians are all about the work ethic.

    • DoingDewey

      I definitely wouldn’t have minded more about the science! I don’t think I’d have enjoyed the book without the science that was included, but I have to agree that the memoir aspect was the real strength of the book. I wouldn’t have particularly associated magicians with a strong work ethic (or much else – I just didn’t know anything about them!) but having read this, I can see why that would be critical for their success.

    • DoingDewey

      Also, I should have included a mention of your blog in my original post and I’m sorry I didn’t, because I find myself recommending it a lot in the comments and because you’re definitely the source I’d suggest for reviews on this topic. I’ve added a mention now and will promote some on twitter this week too 🙂

  5. Jenny @ Reading the End

    Sooooo hm, would you recommend it, in the final analysis? Or nah? I have had this book on my TBR list for dogs’ ages, and I’ve been wondering if I should just delete it from the list unread. (On the principle that if I haven’t read it by now, I maybe didn’t want to read it that badly in the first place.) Any thoughts? Delete it or don’t?

    • DoingDewey

      I’d lean toward yes! It was a fun read and the author bothered me a lot less as the book went along 🙂 You also might check out Katherine Nabity’s blog for other suggestions on books about magic, since she reviews a lot and might have a five star book to recommend

  6. Kazen @ Always Doing

    I’m a fan of the Dewey Decimal number in the title! I started my own Dewey project years ago and while it’s fallen by the wayside I always have an eye out for sections I don’t have yet… such as nearly all of the 200s and 400s, hehe.

    • DoingDewey

      I actually just stumbled into the 200s at the library today and wow is religion a tough topic for me to read on! I don’t love reading single books about divisive topics because I feel like it’s hard to trust any one author to give you an unbiased opinion. And while personally I’m not religious, I don’t want to skew my reading too much toward books that have a negative opinion of religion as a result. We’ll see how it goes 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      It definitely got better as I went! And while I must confess I considered knocking a star off for the author, I did honestly enjoy it four stars worth overall 🙂

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