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The Secret History of Magic: The True Story of the Deceptive Art  by Jim Steinmeyer and Peter Lamont

Published by TarcherPerigee (July 17, 2018)

Two renowned historians of stage magic team up to produce this definitive, engaging history of stage magic, from Ancient Egypt to David Copperfield. Fifty glorious illustrations throughout. 

This is the story of how conjurors managed to survive in a world of modern wonders. It is a history of unbelievable tales. Behind the tall tales is an extraordinary truth.

If you read the standard history of magic, you learn that it begins in ancient Egypt, with the resurrection of a goose before the Pharaoh. You discover how magicians were tortured and killed during the age of witchcraft. You hear colorful tales of conjurors who used their unique skills to deceive the enemy in war. The history of magic is full of such stories, which turn out not to be true. Behind the smoke and mirrors, however, lies the real story of magic.

It is a history of people from humble roots, who made and lost fortunes, and who deceived kings and queens. In order to survive, they concealed many secrets, yet they revealed some and they stole others. They exposed the methods of mediums and psychics. They engaged in deception, exposure, and betrayal, in a quest to make the impossible happen.

An ongoing series of technological wonders appeared, which previous generations would have considered magical. And yet in a world in which the most sophisticated technology is now taken for granted, we can still be astonished by tricks that were performed hundreds of years ago. The Secret History of Magic reveals what really happened, and how it was done. It is about why this matters in a world that no longer seems to have a place for magic, but which desperately needs a sense of wonder.


"There is no greater expert on the history of stage magicians than Jim Steinmeyer."
-Neil Patrick Harris

"Steinmeyer's combination of enthusiasm and erudition is a joy."
-Neil Gaiman

"Steinmeyer writes about events a century ago as vividly as if he had been there."
-Teller, Penn and Teller, The New York Times Book Review

"Steinmeyer is the ideal host, introducing us to a fascinating stranger, and sliding into the background...Here is a storyteller with a glint in his eye. Pull up a chair, you won't be disappointed." --Mark Stafford, Times of London

"Peter Lamont has conjured up a magical read."
-The Observer

"Peter Lamont’s shrewd and often very funny book distils the perplexities of an age … this is a serious and thought-provoking book about how we witness and interpret the world"

- Hilary Mantel, Booker Prize recipient

In the course of their history, the co-authors share a number of memorably phrased observations about the ideals of stage magic. For example, Robert-Houdin neatly declared that “the conjurer is an actor playing the part of a magician.” Advising against obvious dexterity, Erdnase recommends that a card magician “conceal, as far as possible, the possession of digital ability.” The contemporary artist Banksy adds yet a third maxim: “Become good at cheating, and you never need to become good at anything else.”

- Michael Dirda, Washington Post

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.