I want to believe.
November 25, 2014 1:59 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend me works based on the lives and works of stage magicians. I want to learn about how they started their careers and how they changed as it went on.

The recent FFP on James Randi's work made me realize how I've always liked stage magic and magician shows despite well, never actually been to one before. On the TV/movies/YT I've seen street magic done but TBH, I have terrible hand-eye coordination and slight of hand tricks don't work out well for me.

However, I want to learn about the lives of stage magicians, illusionists, and/or mentalists from books, movies, and articles. I have watched the BBC documentary on James Randi linked, The Prestige (odd ending, really?), Now You See Me (2013), Zatanna, and I think there were some YA books with this theme but not well-written.

I don't mind non-fiction or fictional works but I do want the focus to be on stage magicians working for entertainment vs fantasy magic. Autobiography and biographies would be great. I don't need a summary of each work but a simple reason why it relates would fine. Thanks.
posted by chrono_rabbit to Education (13 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Carter Beats the Devil

It's an entertaining novel whose main character is a stage magician. I have no inside knowledge of the craft, the 1920s, etc., but seems well researched and gives a lot of background. Thrills! Suspense! Warren G. Harding! Warren G. Harding?
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:14 PM on November 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hiding the Elephant
posted by Obscure Reference at 2:14 PM on November 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

Seconding Jim Steinmeyer's Hiding the Elephant. It's a wonderfully written history of the technical innovators of stage magic covering roughly the 1870s to the 1920s.
posted by coleboptera at 2:15 PM on November 25, 2014

Fooling Houdini
posted by Obscure Reference at 2:24 PM on November 25, 2014

He didn't really end up doing magic but Steve Martin's autobiography was a great audio book and he talks about his beginnings in learning magic and performing on stage.
posted by beccaj at 2:25 PM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

What about War Magician - a biography of Jasper Maskeyne? The man who "hid" the Suez canal and made the port of Alexandria disappear! Some of his claims have been called into question, but it is a fascinating read nonetheless.
posted by ninazer0 at 2:34 PM on November 25, 2014

Deceptive Practices, an old-ish documentary about Ricky Jay, based on an older New Yorker article
posted by adamrice at 2:36 PM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Actually, I've just recommended The Sorcerer's Apprentice in a recent travel book AskMe, but it might suit you as well - part of it documents the tricks and "miracles" of India's various holy men and women. The author spends time with a magician who is portrayed almost as India's bad-tempered version of James Randi. Magic is not the focus of the book, but there are some really choice sections that may appeal.
posted by ninazer0 at 4:30 PM on November 25, 2014

Robertson Davies wrote a novel called "World of Wonders", part of his Deptford Trilogy. It deals with stage magic among other things.
posted by BillMcMurdo at 4:44 PM on November 25, 2014

How about Derren Brown? His "autobiography" Confessions of a Conjuror and his other book, Trick of the Mind would be a good start.
posted by guster4lovers at 4:46 PM on November 25, 2014

The Prestige.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:09 PM on November 25, 2014

Seconding Carter Beats the Devil. I'd also suggest Houdini!!!: The Career of Ehrich Weiss, a 1997 biography by Kenneth Silverman, who was a stage magician himself. (Fun fact: According to Silverman, Houdini's escape artist schtick arose from his efforts to debunk spiritualist mediums by demonstrating how they could escape from being tied up to "prove" they couldn't be the source of raps on the table.)
posted by Gelatin at 5:01 AM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

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