Growing up, I had a little obsession with magic. Making flowers appear with the wave of a hand, sawing an assistant in half, pulling a rabbit out of a hat—anytime a magician popped up on TV, I was riveted. Well, the animal acts generally made me uncomfortable, but the rest of it—bending the rules of reality—was fascinating. More than anything, I wanted to know how they did what they did. Not so much the secrets behind their illusions, but how they were crafted and how magicians can captivate an audience almost entirely through mild deception.
I was kind of a literal kid.
Well, performing wasn’t in the cards, but thankfully there are magicians out there like Joshua Jay providing a glimpse behind the magic curtain (handkerchief?).
In his newest book, How Magicians Think, Jay presents fifty-two essays examining everything from his favorite magicians how an illusion is workshopped to even a brief history of the artform. They’re generally brief pieces, and this brevity keeps the book from every getting stale. If anything, there are plenty of times I found myself curious about Jay’s further thoughts on a few topics. But like any good showman, he knows how to leave an audience wanting more. Fortunately, through thoughtful analysis and the occasional amusing anecdote, he delivers.
For those wanting to know exactly how to perform the big tricks themselves, no such luck here. Jay is big on reiterating the cloistered nature of magicians. So much so, about the only time he has a negative word to say is when discussing a magician who sold secrets for a quick television paycheck. In a world where most information is just a few keystrokes away, it’s somehow both quaint and refreshing that Jay and magicians like him continue to swear themselves to secrecy.
Ultimately, that’s what keeps this book entertaining. If you still want to sit back and believe in the magic—even just a little—Jay offers the possibility of a deeper appreciation for illusions and the people who work tirelessly to perfect them.
Title: How Magicians Think: Misdirection, Deception, and Why Magic Matters
Author: Joshua Jay
Publisher: Workman Publishing
Publication Date: September 28, 2021
Classification: Entertainment, Nonfiction
Jay’s Website | Publisher’s Page
Note: I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.