Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hiding The Elephant, Jim Steinmeyer

Title: Hiding The Elephant
Author: Jim Steinmeyer
Rating: Good

Hiding the Elephant discusses the golden age of magic, an era starting in the mid 1800's and ending somewhere around 1920. Magic shows were a major form of entertainment, the egos of the performers were huge, and they fought with or spied on each other with ferocity. And yet there was something gentlemanly about the occupation that clings to it even today.

Steinmeyer gives us a cast of about twelve characters plus supporting parts that collectively show what was going on during the times. He focuses loosely on optical illusions, particularly their history and development, but he tells the story of these magicians as well.

You will learn some of the secrets here - how a particular levitation was performed, for example - but giving away those secrets isn't the author's intent. The people are what matter. And yes, in the end we do learn how Houdini made an elephant disappear, but much more interesting is Houdini himself, and all the others.

If you like stage magic there is a lot to recommend this book. Steinmeyer knows the history in depth and shares it well. If there is a problem it's that at times he tries to share too much, and sometimes the path of the story gets a little lost.

Still, this is an excellent introduction to the time, the magicians, and the techniques they used. Recommended.