After writing two books for fellow professionals, charismatic magician Derren Brown finally wrote one for the general public, Tricks of the Mind. As he essentially lies for a living, I assumed that it would mostly consist of the patter he offers to punters savvy enough to not quite believe in psychic powers or real magick, but still gullible enough to believe in stage hypnotism as it's presented, neurolinguistic programming, and so on. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find it frank and honest.
In Tricks of the Mind, Brown talks about various subjects of interest that are related to his stage act, namely stage magic, improving memory, hypnosis, and subtle body language. Perhaps more surprising is the lengthy section on the art of rational thinking.
I can only imagine this book is aimed at people who saw his show, either live or on TV, then got swept up in the awe and excitement and wanted for all of about five minutes to become a fellow magician, during which time they somehow managed to run down to their local bookshop and impulse buy it. Such people would likely have been disappointed to find out the truth: that the author is just a stage magician with a flair for good showmanship, not actually a psychic or practitioner of "real" magick.
Such people should persevere with this book, however, because not only does the author reveal a little bit of conjuring methodology, but he also gives invaluable insights into actual magick and psychic powers, from Ouija boards to pendulum based divination -- namely how they're shams. He debunks a lot of myths and shows the reader how to use rational thought and science to protect herself from subsequent future dupings by people who claim to be practitioners of such arts.
This book is essentially a breezy beginner's guide to questioning your beliefs, which the interested layman can use to springboard into more weighty tomes. The recommended reading list offers a plethora of good suggestions for anyone seriously considering delving more deeply into any of the subjects covered. Everyone from Michael Shermer and Richard Dawkins to Stanley Milgram and Malcolm Gladwell gets namechecked.
Most surprising was the writing style. Brown's choices of similes, examples and phrases is actually preferable in my mind to reading Douglas Adams, which is really saying something. So not only are you getting an insight into the tricks Brown employs both in his work and general life, but it's thoroughly enjoyable to read, and on more than a few occasions had me giggling to myself and reading bits out loud to whoever else was in the room at the time, the pour souls.
Perhaps most endearing of all was the very beginning of the book, where Brown confesses to having been a self righteous Christian before his interests in hypnosis and magic led him to take a more skeptical approach to belief, which in turn led to him becoming an atheist. It's great that he opened up so much about such an unflattering past. Maybe there's hope for anyone to think rationally, as he learned to.
Then again, he could just be lying about that, or anything else. I can never tell with him. It is, after all, his job.