Wonder-Workers! How They Perform the Impossible
By Joe Nickell
Children's book review by P.J. Rooks
Wonder-Workers takes readers on about a 200-year, biographical tour of some of the more famous shenanigans and side show splendors of both sincere and charlatan magicians.
For each, author Joe Nickell gives the often unglamorous truth of how their tricks worked.
We meet the the toy-maker and master of illusion considered the father of modern magic, Robert Houdin and his biggest fan, Erich Weiss, who later, famously, changed his name to Harry Houdini to indicate that he was Houdin-like. Houdin and Houdini were honest magicians who spent their careers both entertaining and trying to protect audiences from magical frauds, of which Nickell's book introduces several.
A master of sweeping generalities and self-appointed prophet, Evangeline Adams modernized the ancient art of astrology with such flair for the human psyche that when she was indicted for the crime of fortune telling, she was able to convince the judge of her sixth sense. That was back in the 1920's and her predictions are skewed in the eyes of history since they quickly, though incorrectly, became the stuff of legend -- and look how many people still follow astrology today!
Wonder-Workers introduces many others who have similarly tripped up the collective evolution of the human intellect. Ivan Chabert, fire-walker turned quack apothecary, Daniel Hume, one of the early spirit mediums and Lulu Hurst, a young girl who used lesser-known concepts of physics to convince crowds that she was a human magnet (but ultimately confessed years later) all take their places within Nickell's pages. Mind reader, Joseph Dunninger, health psychic, Edgar Cayce, psychic detective, Edgar Hurkos and x-ray vision extraordinaire, Joaquin Argamasilla also join the flimflam hall of fame.
In short, approachable prose, Wonder-Workers! How They Perform the Impossible guides readers on a fascinating exposé of magical history that leaves us, at the end of every page, thinking, "A-ha! I was wondering how they did that!"
Check out all of Nickell's books at joenickell.com.
Read more of P.J.'s reviews.
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