Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Glorious Deception, Jim Steinmeyer

Title: The Glorious Deception
Author: Jim Steinmeyer
Rating: Good

Magic has always been something that fascinates me. From as far back as I can remember I was always interested in seeing magic performed and trying to understand how it was done. I have zero belief in the supernatural, so I always assumed (and still do) that the great magicians are just fooling my senses in some way. But I've never pursued my interest in magic to the point of actually learning how to do it. Clearly it requires too much grace and coordination - things I lack entirely - for me to pull it off.

But that doesn't mean I'm not interested in reading about it, and when The Glorious Deception came to my attention I hoped that it would be entertaining and enlightening. It was.

At its heart, the book is a biography of William Robinson, also known as Chung Ling Soo, "The Marvelous Chinese Conjurer". He was one of the biggest magicians of his time, performing mostly in Europe for many years. As you can probably guess - with someone named Robinson being called a "Chinese Conjurer" - there were some odd things going on in his life. But the story of William Robinson, on its own, wouldn't use this many pages. Yes, there were some complexities to his life, but if the book were only about him it would be less than half as long.

What Steinmeyer does in addition is tell a lot of the story of magic at the time - roughly 1860 through 1920, including the birth of vaudeville. It talks about various important performers and the acts they had. In a lot of cases it gives enough detail to understand how various illusions were actually performed, which I really appreciated.

If you have any interest in magic this is a good read. It will help you to understand a lot of where modern magic comes from, and the ways in which it is done. I've never been either a big biography or history fan, but this book held my attention from start to finish. Recommended.