cold reading like psychics do: I need to read about it
April 13, 2021 4:16 PM   Subscribe

This is for research. I need books on, like, fortune-telling, psychic readings, etc. Scenarios where a client seeks answers about their inner world, and the professional demonstrates magical-seeming insight.

I took a book out of the library that turns out to be about a completely different kind of "cold reading"... something about auditions. That's not what I want. I want to read about how psychics do cold readings for fortune telling, seances, etc. What kind of "tells" to look for, how they developed the skill, typical client reactions and scenarios, etc.
posted by fingersandtoes to Human Relations (11 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Derren Brown is probably the most famous modern expert on that kind of cold reading, how it works, how to manipulate the target to improve apparent hit rate etc etc. The link above goes to a topic list, and if you click on the "cold reading" link it'll take you to his recommendations for books (not necessarily his own).

He's a pretty compelling performer, you can find a lot of his old TV series and specials around the internet along with his books.

For your searches, you may want to try phrases like "psychic cold reading" "medium cold reading" and "fortune teller cold reading" to exclude performance without rehearsal type material.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:34 PM on April 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm not sure if these will cover quite what you're looking for, but I recently finished a novel featuring a Victorian-era spiritualist who does some cold reading. That book had a nice list of sources, at least one of which is probably relevant to your research.
  • 13 Steps to Mentalism by Corinda, from which several of the more elaborate tricks are adapted. This is a proper magic book with real explanations about how it's done; read at your own risk.
  • Table-Rappers by Ronald Pearson, an excellent summary of Victorian spiritualism.
  • The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading by Ian Rowland, invaluable for anyone who wonders about mediums and psychics and the like, and revelatory about how easily all of us can be manipulated.
  • The First Psychic by Peter Lamont, a marvellous and highly readable account of the career of D. D. Home, the Wizard of the North. File under "unbelievable truth."
  • Spirit Slate Writing and Kindred Phenomena (1898) by William Robinson, a state-of-the-art contemporary account of spiritualist trickery written by a top-flight stage magician, free online.
  • The Psychic Mafia by M. Lamar Keene, fascinating on the mentality of those who exploit people's grief and hope for profit.

posted by duien at 5:21 PM on April 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think Ian Rowland's book The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading is considered the definitive text on psychic cold reading techniques. Glad to see this book has recently been republished!
posted by muddgirl at 5:23 PM on April 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm seconding Corinda's book - it's THE classic, although very much of its time.
posted by cobaltnine at 5:29 PM on April 13, 2021

Best answer: I just read My Life Across the Table by Karen Page and really enjoyed it. But its a memoir, and it sounds like you're looking for a book that assumes psychics are not real?
posted by EllaEm at 7:22 PM on April 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ian Rowland’s books, per Mudgirl is **very** good. Another one I have in the library is Red Hot Cold Reading
posted by Wink Ricketts at 7:34 PM on April 13, 2021

Best answer: The Leverage episode "The Future Job" focuses on cold-reading, and has some good examples of it in motion (both the doing and then people explaining how it was done) that I've always liked as an example, along with the reading.
posted by jenettsilver at 7:55 PM on April 13, 2021

Best answer: You may want to check out The Psychology of the Psychic. I read the book years ago, but I think it had at least a chapter (maybe more) about cold reading.
posted by alex1965 at 8:54 PM on April 13, 2021

Response by poster: for my purposes it would be useful to also see sources from psychics who do believe in their own power, as well as the alternate view
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:37 PM on April 13, 2021

Best answer: TV's John Edward has written several books about his thing and how to develop your psychic powers, and I think also a fiction novel that features some aspect of it. He (or his ghostwriter, I don't know) is a decent storyteller, they're not unpleasant reads.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:11 AM on April 14, 2021

Best answer: I really enjoyed Maria Konnikova's The Confidence Game. Why We Fall for It… Every Time. Penguin Books, 2016.
posted by sindark at 9:03 AM on April 14, 2021

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