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The Glorious Deception: The Double Life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo, the "Marvelous Chinese Conjurer"
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The Glorious Deception: The Double Life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo, the "Marvelous Chinese Conjurer"

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  297 ratings  ·  30 reviews
In a biography woven from equal parts enchantment and mystery, Jim Steinmeyer unveils the secrets behind the most enigmatic performer in the history of stage magic, Chung Ling Soo, the "Marvelous Chinese Conjurer" -- a magician whose daring made his contemporary Houdini seem like the boy next door. Soo's infamous and suspicious onstage death in 1918 mystified his fellow ma ...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published April 11th 2006 by Da Capo Press (first published 2005)
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Jan 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
It’s not art, and I doubt it helped me grow any as a person, but this book was a fun read.

It launches in Sunset Boulevard fashion, as the central character is shot to death onstage while performing a trick involving the catching of bullets. The rest of the story is told chronologically, as William Robinson—born in New York—learns his art at the feet of the 19th century’s greatest magicians, eventually becoming a top draw himself as the allegedly-Chinese sorcerer “Chung Ling Soo.”

Throughout the
Meghan Wilson
Feb 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Maybe I'm too easy on books like this because I am absolutely fascinated with the subject matter in general so I suppose I am a little biased, but I loved this book. I love that its real. And it doesn't just give you a biography of William Robinson but it starts you off with the history of vaudeville...the true beginnings of the industry. Its one of those non-fiction books that reads like fiction rather than a school text book. I would read this book again...just might.
Interesting biography of William Robinson, a true-to-life Victorian/Edwardian-era magician/illusionist who lived a life of deception, on and off stage. Great side stories concerning the other magician/illusionists of his day -- The Great Lafeyette, Houdini, and Ching Ling Foo who became his greatest enemy in the competetive world of magicians after "Rob" took on the persona of "Chung Ling Soo" in England (together with an overwhenlmingly succesful tour to Australia).
May 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book, being a magician myself, I have always been fascinated with William Robinson. Highly recommended.
Mar 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was an absolutely fantastic read. Highly recommended.
Hy Conrad
Sep 19, 2020 rated it liked it
If you've already read "Hiding the Elephant", Steinmeyer's most popular book, then you already know the highlights of this fascinating period in American entertainment. This is a very thorough biography of one of the most interesting magicians, a man who died onstage doing his most famous illusion. But the book, well over 400 pages, gets bogged down in so many details. I suppose everyone's life is full of repetition and meaningless detail, but a biographer's job is make it all hang together and ...more
Jake Cooper
Jul 29, 2017 rated it it was ok
Dramatized biographies are caught between dry and fake, between "In March 1885..." and "The door slammed with a bang." I much preferred Steinmeyer's Hiding the Elephant. ...more
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed the story and magic.
Dec 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
one of the most interesting biographies I have ever read
May 14, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: own-currently
The Glorious Deception is a great title for a book examining the life of William Robinson, as his life was always a deception on some level or other. For much of the time reading the book, I felt that the deception was actually glorious, but by the end it was just pathetic. Turns out that creating a chaotic, complicated personal life doesn't lead one to happiness. Shocking.

This book is not full of great prose. If you're looking for some amazingly written, fun-to-read non-fiction, look elsewhere.
Joanne  Clarke Gunter
Jun 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
This is an interesting and very in-depth book about the life of William Robinson aka Chung Ling Soo, a famous American magician (and friend of Harry Houdini) posing as a Chinese magician in the late 1800's and early 1900's. In this case, by very in-depth I mean overly long. While I did find the book interesting and well-written and many of the magic tricks fascinating, I think it could have been cut by a hundred pages or so. I tired of such detailed description of every trick, no matter how fasc ...more
Jul 08, 2008 rated it liked it
I wanted to read this ever since Teller of Penn & Teller recommended it. I know next to nothing about magic and I found this book very interesting.

It does reveal how some tricks back in the day were performed, but I don't think this sours anyone's expectations of a magic show. We're not stupid, we know there's a trick to the performances.

The fact that this was a non-fiction story about a white American man who portrayed himself as a Chinese sorcerer was incredible. It's also fascinating that he
Julian Walker
Feb 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
From an early age, many people have a fascination with magic and those famous 19th/20th century performers, who really created many of today's grand illusions.

The tale of the notoriously dangerous bullet catching trick, which took the life of Chung Ling Soo on a London stage in 1918, was legendary in my schooldays.

Jim Steinmeyer tells his life story, which proves to be even more deceptive than his tricks. Interweaving the history of stage magic with tricks from contemporary greats, this is an ab
Sep 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A stunning piece my the multi-talented Jim Steinmeyer. This piece covers one of the most exciting, and fascinating times in the history of magic. Through Steinmeyer's historical lens we get to witness the shows of previous masters such as Alexander Hermann, and Harry Kellar. Following the exploits of a failed professional magicians turned stage manager, this book lays out a slice of life in show business, circa the early 1900s. A colorful voyage, and one supremely worth taking, especially for fa ...more
Aug 31, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Illusionists, White people wanting to be Asian, People who like vaudeville typography on their cover
Honestly, I bought this book because of its cover. I had no clue that this book was about the life of a magician. And the double life of the same magician in question. Well, I guess I could've guessed it based on the title, but like I said, I bought the book because of its cover.

It was a good book, nonetheless. A biography about a magician from the beginning of his career in the late 19th century to his Spoiler Alert! death. A lot of illusions' secrets are revealed in the book, too, if you ever
Walter Five
May 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
A very fascinating account of the life and illusions of Chung Ling Soo, the world's greatest Chinese Magician, who was actually Englishman William Robinson.

Fans of Ray Bradbury's "Dandelion Wine" will recall the character of the Colonel, who recounted an eye-witness telling of the night Chung Ling Soo died performing his famous bullet-catching trick.

This is an excellent biography of a very interesting performer, and an insight into the times and tribulations of Show Business at the turn of the
Sep 17, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: borrowed
Borrowed from Derek
A fascinating look at turn of the century entertainment - vaudeville, magic shows and the cutthroat business dealings behind them. A well-researched, entertaining read. Will have to see if I can get a hold of Steinmyer's other book Hiding the Elephant
Feb 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Heard about this book in a piece on NPR by Teller. I hate it when people buy music and books that they heard about between the all the tragic stories on NPR news about the last of something dieing out or disappearing forever from the ecosytem but this is a really great story.
There are great insights into the way the entertainment business worked around the turn of the century and development of the art and traditions of magic and illusion.
Mark Potts
Jul 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: magic
Billy Robinson was a complicated man.

This is the story of how he made everyone believe he was an old Chinese Magician, rather than a skinny white bloke. Why no one has made this a movie, I am at a loss to explain. As you would expect, Steinmeyer delivers a clear, concise, authoritative account of Robinson's life and career.
Kurt Reichenbaugh
Oct 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
As William Robinson, he was a competent, if forgettable stage magician. As Chung Ling Soo, Chinese mystic and practitioner of the ancient arts of magic, he was world famous, a rival of the Great Houdini himself, until a magic bullet trick went horribly wrong. It's an incredible and true story of magicians and there art. This is a terrific book for magic fans.
May 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
A very rich and detailed biography of an enigmatic entertainer. Great stories of the golden age of magic and amazing tricks (including the bullet catching trick that killed Soo on stage). But the most amazing trick of all may be the story of how William Robertson took on the persona of Chung Ling Soo and became one of the famous magicians of his day.
Oct 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Excellent book about the high water mark in Magic (and Vaudeville for that matter). Robinson's life and shows are well documented and Steinmeyer's experience in magic acts helps explain the illusions. The other characters in the book like Houdini, Kellar, Herrmann, Lafayette add to the atmosphere and mood of the era. If you have any interest in magic or stage craft, this is an excellent read.
Aug 14, 2010 added it
Biography of the magician who famously and spectacularly failed the bullet catch illusion.

This will be a fun read for those interested in magic history, as it covers the golden age from 1880 to 1920, both in the US and in England.

Probably 4.5 for those specifically interested in magic, 3.5 for those interested in the history of that time period, lower than that for none of the above.
Mark Dunn
Jul 07, 2015 rated it liked it
It was a good book about a by gone time. It inspired me to attend my first live magic show. I found it really funny that the theater going public liked the fake China-man better than the real thing.
Jan 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Go to this link for an introduction to the book.......
Steve Silbiger
Jan 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Great Book. It is the first book I have read from this author. Strong recommendation.
Sandi Munson
Sep 05, 2008 rated it liked it
Somewhere in here is a really interesting story... but it is told in such a drawn out, detailed manner that I got bored.
Matt Sears
May 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
A fun 19th century story about a man with many secrets. Would especially appeal to history or magic enthusiasts.
Rich Rosell
Jan 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
If you're nerd for magic like I am then this fascinating biography of William Robinson/Chung Ling Soo - which begins with his death while performing the bullet catch - is recommended.
Feb 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is an amazing story of an illusionist/magician whose real magic took place off and on the stage. For those who enjoy compelling true stories, this is a wonderful book.
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Jim Steinmeyer was born and raised just outside of Chicago, Illinois, and graduated in 1980 from Loyola University of Chicago, with a major in communications. He is literally the man behind the magicians having invented impossibilities for four Doug Henning television specials, six touring shows, two Henning Broadway shows, and numerous television and Las Vegas appearances.For one of David Copperf ...more

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