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Hiding the Elephant  by Jim Steinmeyer

Published by Carroll & Graf, (December, 2003)

In this astonishing book, Jim Steinmeyer chronicles a half-century of illusionary innovation, backstage chicanery, and keen competition within the world of magicians. Steinmeier unveils the secrets and life stories of the fascinating personalities behind optical marvels such as floating ghosts, disembodied heads, and vanishing ladies. He demystifies Pepper’s Ghost, Charles Morritt’s Disappearing Donkey, and Houdini’s landmark vanishing of Jennie the elephant in 1918. Hiding the Elephant brilliantly explores Houdini’s elusive mystery, and much more, chronicling the dramatic story of science and history that lies behind the magician’s curtain.

 

The success of a magician "lies in making a human connection to the magic." Create an illusion in the audience's mind, and they're hooked. But to understand magicians, we need to understand the art of that creation. Steinmeyer, who has designed illusions for Siegfried and Roy and David Copperfield, presents a cultural history of magic's golden age (from the 1890s to the 1930s), some legendary tricks (including the Levitation of Princess Karnak and Harry Houdini's Disappearing Elephant) and the fierce rivalries that dominated the craft. Steinmeyer reveals certain secrets, which rely on engineering, artistry and sheer chutzpah, but he hasn't betrayed anyone; most of his information has been published elsewhere. What he adds is context. Magicians advertise deceit, then perform it. Unlike political chicanery, which Steinmeyer dubs dishonest trickery, magic is a kind of pure trickery. Audiences pay for a ruse, not a lecture on fraud. Do we believe movie special effects are real? Of course not, but it doesn't detract from our enjoyment. Similarly, while many 19th-century spiritualists were rightfully debunked as frauds and charlatans, audiences loved the antics. Some, such as the Davenport brothers, were a magnet of controversy and a wild hit, successfully mixing "religion, agnosticism, science, superstition, and fraud." Steinmeyer diagrams famous tricks, celebrating their science and ingenuity. Readers meet characters as colorful as their acts. Buyer beware: If you want to keep your illusions, go to Las Vegas. But for magic lovers who revel in learning the magician's art, this book part research study, part salute is a find. 8 pages of b&w photos and diagrams.

-Publishers Weekly

Jim Steinmeyer is one of today’s most renowned historians of stage magic. He is the acclaimed author of The Glorious Deception and Hiding the Elephant, a Los Angeles Times bestseller. He is also a leading designer of magic illusion who has done work for television, Broadway, and many of the best-known names in modern magic, such as Doug Henning, Siegfried & Roy, and David Copperfield. Steinmeyer has also developed attractions and live shows for the Walt Disney Company, Universal Studios, and Dreamworks, and has twice received fellowships from the Academy of Magical Arts. He lives in Los Angeles.