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Abracadabra!    by Nathaniel Schiffman order for
by Nathaniel Schiffman
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Prometheus, 1997 (1997)

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* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

If you watch, dumbfounded, as David Copperfield makes animals and architecture disappear, if you can't figure out how a guy standing only a few feet away can produce cards and coins and other knickknacks without you seeing how he does it, then this, my friend, is the book for you. Schiffman, billed on the dust jacket as 'a writer and devotee of magic,' clearly knows his stuff, and this comprehensive book will tell you pretty much everything you need to know about how professional magicians work their wonders.

Schiffman exposes a lot of secrets here: I was especially happy to learn, for example, how very simple it is to make someone appear to levitate, and how easy it is to make it appear that you're actually passing a hoop all the way around the floating body (once you read Schiffman's simple description, you can duplicate the illusion in miniature at home, with a bent coat hanger and a home-made hoop; it's thoroughly convincing). I was also delighted to see just how sensible and intelligent the magicians' tools are: misdirection, visual trickery, and a physical elegance to match that of the most accomplished dancer or athlete.

The thing is, I already knew -- I'm assuming most of you do, too -- that these stage performers weren't really making things appear or disappear, weren't really cutting people in half and jabbing sharp sticks through them. What Schiffman tells me is how these illusions are crafted: what sort of equipment is involved, and how the magician relies on the expectations of his or her audience to make it seem that something magical is taking place.

And, come to think of it, when an accomplished performer takes the stage, something magical is taking place, isn't it?

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