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Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind

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3.70  ·  Rating details ·  2,441 ratings  ·  408 reviews
From the back rooms of New York City’s age-old magic societies to cutting-edge psychology labs, three-card monte games on Canal Street to glossy Las Vegas casinos, Fooling Houdini recounts Alex Stone’s quest to join the ranks of master magicians.

As he navigates this quirky and occasionally hilarious subculture populated by brilliant eccentrics, Stone pulls back the curtain
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Hardcover, 320 pages
Published June 19th 2012 by Harper (first published October 4th 2011)
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Carol
Dec 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
I made many notes while reading this book about the author's quest to find his place in the world of magicians. His perseverance and dedication are to be admired. On the whole it was an interesting story and the sleight of hand is nothing but magical. I was mesmerized by all types of magic described and the talent of those who perform this art. I think my favorite tricks are those done with just a plain deck of playing cards. The way these can be manipulated leave me in awe.

This reader would ha
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Mara
The fact that this book was written without a single allusion to everyone's favorite illusionist, Gob Bluth , is basically a crime against humanity (or at least against the laws of pop culture reference-dom). This missed opportunity is especially egregious, given that our author/magician, Alex Stone, is, at one point,kicked out of the Academy of Magical Arts !
I'll be honest. I'm just more comfortable with an Alliance-approved magician.
If you're looking for a book that interweaves sci
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David
Mar 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs, nonfiction, humor
What entertainment! This is the autobiographical story of a graduate student in physics, who decided to take a detour into magic. Alex Stone starts the book with a giant flub; he competed in the "Magic Olympics" in Stockholm--and was disqualified because he hid his hands behind a table. That was, for him, "rock bottom". He decided to study, practice, attend magic workshops, and practice, practice, and practice. The book has some interesting digressions about neuroscience, and the psychology of i ...more
Harold
Jun 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I enjoyed every moment reading this book this book! If nothing in the title piques your interest then this book is not for you. But for me? Right up my alley! There is so much of interest in this book - so much knowledge - so much touching on the arcane that I found myself highlighting much of the text for future reference. That Stone can make the mathematics of shuffling a deck of cards interesting speaks to remarkable writing skills. When he explains the universe reflected in 52 cards I am rap ...more
Vonia
This book is the perfect companion to one of my favorites, "Sleights Of Mind". Whereas "Sleights Of Mind" is written by neuroscientists exploring the world of magic, this is written by a magician exploring magic's significant relevancy to psychology and the neurosciences. (He is, however, also a physicist. Although he left his PhD program in order to pursue magic, he still retains his passion for physics.) The two works greatly compliment each other, covering much of the same territory, but from ...more
Sonja Arlow
3 1/2 stars

This book was long forgotten at the bottom of my TBR pile until I came across a Freakonomics podcast (Think Like a Child) where the host had an interview with Alex Stone about just how difficult it is to fool children with the same magic tricks that will completely flabbergast adults.

“Magic, at its core, is about toying with the limits of perception. And as any neuroscientist will tell you, one can learn a lot about the brain by studying those bizarre moments wherein it succumbs to i
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Anne Shirako
Sep 01, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
Why would a physics PhD student leave Columbia University to study magic? Why do we enjoy being fooled? What does math have to do with it? Answers to these questions and more can be found in Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind, by Alex Stone.

Stone was enchanted at age six when he received a magic kit. Enthralled, he immediately began showing off his magic “skills” to everyone he could wheedle into watching. It wasn’t until after he was hauled off
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Tori
Jun 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I LOVED this book!!!!!!

I loved the author's self-deprecating humor, his anecdotes, and his nerdiness. I loved the subject matter. What a great read!!!!!

Stone was a physics guy- working on a PhD at Columbia - and thought that magic would make him less nerdy. He learns, buys, and creates magic tricks, and eventually competes in the Magic Olympics. Who would have thought such a forum existed??? Or that there are over 100 magic conventions each year? The reader doesn't exactly learn the "secrets" of
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Jess
Aug 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
Well, it's an okay anecdotal history of magic, but the author is kind of a defensive douchebag, and the book never achieves any real depth.

Love to read a book about women in magic (and why there are so few), anyone know of one?
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J.R.
Aug 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: kindle-books
So... I hear this book is catching a lot of crap in the magic community. I can see why but I'm not going to pile on. I don't think it's much of an exposé at all. There are things I didn't like though. First off the writing isn't superb. I would expect this from a non writer memoir but the author writes and has for a while regularly for discover. The book could have been shorter. There were sections when it felt like padding. Another complaint was that he wasn't clear how major aspects of the sto ...more
Jim Aker
Jun 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Arthur C. Clarke has told us that , "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." What if someone with a scientific mind went about designing a magic routine around science? That is exactly what Alex Stone the author, Physics student and amateur magician does. This was an a excellent read for those with an interest in science and magic. A very entertaining read with a little something for everyone. I recommend it. ...more
Mark Stevens
Jan 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I've been to the Magic Castle in Los Angeles, love the magic segments on the variety shows when I was a kid (still do) and have perfected one jaw-dropping card trick that works on about 30 percent of the four-year-old population. I liked to be amazed and amused.

In "Fooling Houdini," Alex Stone lifts the curtain on the world of magic. It's not a full-scale exposure. It's not a how-to or tell-all. It's a peek inside the relationship between magician and audience, between the duper and dupee, those
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Joanne Clarke Gunter
This book entertained and fascinated me. It is well-written and the author, besides being a extremely skilled close-up magician who excels at card and coin tricks, also has a master's degree in physics from Columbia University deciding to quit his PhD work in order to hone his magic skills and travel the country getting to know the master magicians and learn from them.

Many of the magic tricks described in this book are amazing just to read about and the mental acuity combined with the physical d
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Jill Hutchinson
Jun 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
This is a very unusual book......it is written by a PhD physicist who became addicted to magic and, as do most addictions, it took over his life. He flirted with card tricks as a child after his father bought him a magic kit and became hooked. He takes us through his journey which is absolutely fascinating. There is an underground world of magicians from street performers to professionals, secret societies, oaths, newsletters.....laymen are not welcome. The greatest magicians are those we have n ...more
Bandit
Mar 12, 2013 rated it liked it
According to Alex Stone, the world as magicians see it has only two kinds of persons...magicians and laymen. Any of the latter kind who happens to be fascinated with the world of the former kind (as I am) should read this book. Through a personal quest to become a better magician, the author takes the readers on the incredible journey into an equally incredible world. We meet amazing characters (like a blind card expert/martial artist) and get to hear their stories. You really get to understand ...more
Hal
Jan 10, 2013 rated it it was ok
I got wind of this book from the CBS "Face the Nation" presentation of authors singled out for there work. Bob Scheiffer the host went on and on praising Alex Stone and how funny and entertaining his book was. It sounded interesting but I did not quite connect in the same way.

Essentially the book is about how Alex a then student working on an advanced degree in physics decided to put his schooling on hold to further his first love performing magic acts and card tricks. He started out by getting
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Janis Ian
Jan 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
An absolute must for anyone interested in magic - but even more so, anyone interested in the cognitive sciences, particularly as applied to vision and cortex. For instance: "Studies have found that visual deprivation causes almost immediate changes in the brain. In one study, blindfolded adults picked up tactile cues in their visual cortex after just five days. Another group of researchers has shown that people become more touch-sensitive after ninety minutes of sitting in a pitch-black room.... ...more
Laura
Sep 18, 2016 rated it liked it
Is it a book about Alex Cross? Is it a book about magic? Is it a book about cognitive science? Is it a book about math? It all depends on which page you're reading. ...more
Guilherme Zeitounlian
Dec 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
“One of the best-kept secrets we have as magicians is that laymen would never imagine we would work so hard to fool them.” (Jamy Ian Swiss)

This book is a solid piece of entertainment, with some forays and mentions of physics, math, and psychology.

I was happily surprised to learn about the secretive (and hardworking) world of magicians.

The author is a bit too full of himself, and the narrative does not always flow easily. But it was fun, and I recommend it.
Audra Falk
Jan 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
I picked this up on a whim when it caught my eye at the library. The concept of exploring the world of magicians and street cons or card cons fascinated me, probably because it's such a deviation from my own life experiences! In the end though, I only made it halfway through the book before it was due back at the library and didn't feel like renewing it. Parts of the book felt a little too tedious. Sometimes the author spent more time than necessary explaining his own journey. Still this would l ...more
Micha
Sep 16, 2018 rated it liked it
I think my main gripe with the novel was that the author used so many references and often piled on too much information (which likely could have been condensed).

Also, I learned a bit of the neuroscience aspect of magic in Brain Games, apparently. Who knew.
Rick Mutzke
Jan 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
If you're at all interested in magic and magic tricks, this is a great read. The author goes into a bit of history while describing his growing interest in the various types of magic. ...more
Mendocino County Library
Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind, by Alex Stone

Why would a physics PhD student leave Columbia University to study magic? Why do we enjoy being fooled? What does math have to do with it? Answers to these questions and more can be found in Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind, by Alex Stone.

Stone was enchanted at age six when he received a magic kit. Enthralled, he immediately began showing off hi
...more
Michelle
Sep 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Some unnecessary digressions, but otherwise highly charming and well-written.

The first 3/4 of this book read like a real-life version of The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar (Roald Dahl). Ordinary guy begins to gain very unusual, nearly superhuman abilities that help him to cheat at cards through lots of practice and the help of a mysterious book various mentors.

Stone summarizes a bunch of interesting psychological phenomenon that, unfortunately, I was already familiar with. Ultimately, Stone is
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Jonathan Icasas
Jun 08, 2020 rated it did not like it
This book is a great example of why magic, more often than not, has such a bad reputation. Even in 2012, when this book was published, there are some rather racist and sexist moments. "I was accustomed to being bested by Asian kids several years my junior," can be found in the text, along with fantasy-like descriptions of women that really come off as downright creepy. Then there are the more factual aspects, like calling a particular sleight a "middle deal" as opposed to a "center deal," referr ...more
Donald Plugge
Feb 16, 2013 rated it really liked it

I was back and forth on "Fooling Houdini" by Alex Stone, then ended up satisfied. The book was definitely a hodgepodge, part autobiography, part psychology, part history of magic, part "how to" and part brain science. Sometimes this type of book can end up being a "wiki" read, all the info from various wiki pages strung together. Alex was mostly able to avoid that tedium and weave together a unique blend of magic tales.

Alex Stone explores himself in this book. Anyone can write a book about them
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Pjs_books Sather
Jan 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Fooling Houdini is a journey through a subculture I hadn’t even realized was a subculture. Alex Stone’s beautifully written magic memoire is a ton of fun. I laughed out loud in places, and I learned an old and important card trick that isn’t even a trick (and that even I can do—sometimes).
Katie/Doing Dewey
Jan 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
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K. Lincoln
Aug 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
I was hoping for some interesting tricks and connections between card-sharking and Math when I first picked up this book.

What I got instead was Alex Stone's journey from dabbler in sleight of hand to his transformation into a true magician with his own style of math-derived card routine.

And a fascinating journey it was. Did you know there was a Magic Olympics? Did you know many of the slight of hand masters are in danger of "recruitment" by the mafia? Did you know the masked magician on TV's Mag
...more
Darrenglass
Jul 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Alex Stone is a magician. And a physicist. And a science writer. But at heart he is a magician.He competed in the Magic Olympics in Stockholm in 2006 and...well, as one reads about in the opening pages of his book the outcome was not quite what he had hoped. So he decided to dive deeper into the world of magicians, and FOOLING HOUDINI takes the reader on this dive with him.

Stone seems to be an eclectic person, and the book is an eclectic book. Large parts of this book are simply a personal memoi
...more
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When Alex Stone was five years old, his father bought him a magic kit—a gift that would spark a lifelong love. Years later, while living in New York City, he discovered a vibrant underground magic scene exploding with creativity and innovation and populated by a fascinating cast of characters: from his gruff mentor, who holds court in the back of a rundo
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“Unable to think about anything but shuffling, math, and magic, I became convinced that the secrets of the universe were found inside a pack of playing cards. For starters, there’s a curious symbolism encoded in a deck of cards. There are two colors (red and black) symbolizing day and night; four suits—spades, hearts, clubs, and diamonds—one for each season (or seasons of the magician's life cycle, if you like). The twelve court cards correspond to the months of the Gregorian calendar. Each suit contains thirteen cards, for the thirteen lunar cycles. There are fifty-two cards in a deck, those being the fifty-two weeks in a year. And if you add up the values of all 52 cards, including the joker, you get exactly 365. Add to this the seven shuffles and the surprising reach of the Bayer-Diaconis model—how shuffling mimics the behavior of everything from kneading dough to mixing chemicals—and cards really do start to look like cosmic instruments.” 0 likes
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