Writing about Patrick Page in my last post made me think about the other books that have influenced me. I’m talking about the books that I periodically return to, again and again, to refresh my interest, to inspire me to do better and sometimes, simply to be entertained by. Here is a list of the books that I go to the most – make of it what you will. Although I wrote this article pretty much off the top of my head, I have also included a bunch of links to Magicpedia (graciously hosted by Richard Kaufman and Genii Magazine and lovingly maintained by Joe Pecore and a cast of characters) for those who wish to dig a little deeper.
Here they are, in no particular order:
- The Tarbell Course in Magic by Harlan Tarbell. As my wife says, “it’s all you need.” Although, I might mildly disagree with her (and will as I continue to expand the list), there is enough material in the collected eight Tarbell volumes to have multiple lifelong careers in magic. This was originally issued as a correspondence course in magic and later collected (six volumes) and expanded (two volumes: one by Harry Lorayne and one by Richard Kaufman). It could be even considered nine or ten volumes if you include the additional volumes produced by other magicians on specific topics (Spiritual Applications for Tarbell 1, 2, 3, etc.)
- The Rice Encyclopedia of Silk Magic. Harold Rice was the king of silk magic. Literally: Silk King Studios. This was originally three volumes, later expanded into four with more contemporary material by Mark Trimble. It is also only one of two sets of books in my library that were entirely produced with handwritten lettering (Volume 4 used the same lettering style by scanning the letters and digitizing them as a font).
- The Mark Wilson Complete Course in Magic. Published by Mark Wilson and ghosted by Larry Anderson (with help from Walter Gibson), this book is still in print and a book I regularly gift to up and coming performers.
- The Amateur Magician’s Handbook by Henry Hay (June Barrows Mussey) – don’t knock the title, it has lots of remarkable material that is in the performing repertoire of many professional magicians.
- Magicians Tricks – How They Are Done by Henry Hatton and Adrian Plate. The diversity of material and keen eye of its authors produced a volume of practical, visual, audience-appealing magic.
- Magic: Stage Illusions and Scientific Diversions Including Trick Photography by Albert A. Hopkins. The volume I have was published in 1911 (first published in 1897) and, while not the most current work, does a good job of capturing a sense of wonder and scale that many magic books do not. Dover put out a reprint of this title which is convenient and affordable.
- The Books of Wonder by Tommy Wonder & Stephen Minch (Stephen is a friend and deserves his own post, which he will get later on). Speaking of Wonder, these two volumes detail the original material and performance philosophy of one of magic’s greatest thinkers. I got to meet Tommy and spend a little time talking with him and he was the type of person I like to be around: generous, creative and passionate.
- The trio of books written by Bruce Elliott: Classic Secrets of Magic, Magic as a Hobby and Professional Magic Made Easy (technically it is a quartet, as The Best in Magic was in the series, but I don’t seem to go back to that volume often). Elliott was also the editor/publisher of The Phoenix. This periodical, collected in three hard bound volumes is like a living history of the formation of close-up magic.
- The Fine Art of Magic by George Kaplan (apparently there was some controversy over who actually authored the book, which you can read more about on Magicpedia). I have to confess that I don’t spend a lot of time with this volume, but when I do, my respect and love for the art and craft of magic grows.
- Sleight of Hand by Edwin T. Sachs. I can’t mention Kaplan without mentioning Sachs. The two books are an interesting complement to each other.
- Magician Nightly: The Magic of Eddie Fechter by Jerry Mentzer. Eddie Fechter was a god of bar magic and one of the few magicians with an entire convention named after him (also up there is Matt Schulien – while I don’t go back to Schulien’s book, The Magic of Matt Schulien written by Phil Willmarth, as frequently as others in this list, it is worth reading). Magician Nightly captures the development (hell, a movement) and repertoire of a man who set the scene for an explosion of magic in hospitality settings. Did I mention that David Blaine performed a piece from this book in his first special? ‘Nuff said. Get it.
- The Modern Conjurer and Drawing Room Entertainer by C. Lang Neil. Another, older magic book (1902), this is one of the first magic books to eschew lineart illustrations for photographs (Ellis Stanyon’s Conjuring for Amateurs from 1897 features several photographic plates but is mostly lineart illustrations). And the photographs are remarkable (T. Nelson Downs, Charles Bertram, J. N. Maskelyne, Ellis Stanyon, Paul Valadon, Fèlicien Trewey? Wow!) and profuse.
- The Magic with… series of books by Bill Severn. This series of (I think) thirteen volumes were produced for the amateur magician and are chock full of great material and performance premises.
- “My Best“ by J. G. Thompson. Collected by Thompson, this volume features an amazing breadth of material (193 pieces) from card tricks to a complete silk act (Ade Duval). This featured the stars of magic before the Stars of Magic manuscripts (later collected in book form and oddly not a book I would include in this list).
- The Conjuring Anthology by Jim Steinmeyer. This remarkable collection of pieces (originally written for MAGIC Magazine) was collected (and in some instances expanded on from the original) in a volume published in 2006. If you are a stand-up performer looking for novel presentations and thoughtful magic you need to own this.
- Open Sesame by Wilfred Tyler and Eric Lewis (Lewis deserves another article as well). If you perform for children or families, the principles in this (older) book will serve you very well. Yes, one or two of the pieces are well, to put it frankly, racist, the performing philosophy and approach is incredibly sound.
- Illusion Show: A Life in Magic by David Bamberg. One of my “big three” favorite autobiographies of all time – the other two follow. Not a book of tricks, but a memoir by a working performer that gives a warts and all approach while documenting the end of the “golden era” of magic. Bamberg, as Fu Manchu, was the inspiration for the 34-year run of Le Grande David. It also delves into his relationship with his father – Okito/Theo Bamberg – and what it is like to be a human in a family dynasty. Also eminently readable, almost like a novel…
- Milo & Roger: A Magical Life by Arthur Brandon. Another amazing dive into what it means to be a working pro. Contains my favorite quote in magic (page 113; starting at “My father put it very succinctly…”).
- The Life and Times of Augustus Rapp: The Small Town Showman by Augustus Rapp. Chronologically this aligns with Illusion Show (slightly earlier), but where Bamberg goes into the trials and tribulations of trouping a large illusion show in Latin-speaking countries (on two continents), Rapp performed in town halls, tents, churches, school stages and toured in the most spartan manner (with different shows for every day of the week). A wonderful, eye-opening look at performing magic in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. By the way, there are two versions of this book. The first was originally published by Jay Marshall (for The Ireland Magic Co.) in 1959 (the version I have is an 8.5 x 11 GBC-bound edition that reproduces trade cards, articles, catalog info and the like). The latter version was published in 1991 by David Meyer Magic Books and contains a new foreword and some images that were not in the original (some other content may not be consistent). I recommend getting both.
- One Man Show by William Bagley. The last volume in my list; I wish I had had this book when I was first starting out. It is easily the slimmest of the volumes previously listed but contains an embarrassment of riches for the working performer. I have given away half a dozen or so of these over the years to other performers and, while there is no Magicpedia entry for it, I hope in the near future to write an extensive review which may help to see this volume get the love it deserves…
That’s it for now. I’m sure some will be surprised at some of the titles I have left off (no Expert at the Card Table or Modern Coin Magic?), this was essentially an off-the-top-of-my-head run at the books that continue to inspire and influence me. I deliberately omitted listing periodicals (except one) as I think that will make a great article down the road…
Enjoy and let me know what you agree with as well as what titles you think deserve to be added…