Sleights of Mind by Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde

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Sleights of Mind by Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde

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Category: Popular Science
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Keith Dudhnath
Reviewed by Keith Dudhnath
Summary: An intriguing and enjoyable look at the neuroscience of magic. Sleights of Mind is well-written, accessible and fascinating, but lacks a little depth to make it an absolute must-read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: February 2011
Publisher: Profile
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1846683893

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I have a passing interest in both magic and neuroscience. Not only am I quite the hit with the ladies, but I was also very keen to read Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals About Our Brains. Husband and wife team Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde work at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Arizona, and as a way of promoting their field of visual neuroscience, developed the Illusion of the Year contest. From this, they slipped into the world of magic, investigating, discussing and researching the neuroscience of magic with James Randi, Mac King, Teller (of Penn and...) and Johnny Thompson.

Sleights of Mind is an intriguing and enjoyable read. It's packed with optical illusions, including the rather brilliant Illusion of Sex, as well as explanations of how magic tricks are done (with appropriate spoiler warnings) and just how the brain is being tricked. There are frequent links to video clips at the Sleight of Mind website, but it's perfectly possible to learn from and appreciate the book even without viewing the videos.

Although Sleights of Mind ticked many of my boxes, it's not perfect. It's an interesting mix, but the magic revelations are never quite earth-shattering enough and the neuroscience is never quite fleshed out enough to make it a must-read. Sleights of Mind is accessible, well-written, and with plenty of interesting tricks, facts and ideas that you'll want to share with your friends, but it just lacks that final spark to completely blow your socks off. Whilst nitpicking, I also found the momentary (and admittedly necessary) jumps from first person plural to third person singular jarring.

Minor quibbles aside, Sleights of Mind is a fine choice for fans of popular science and magic. There's a strong narrative, culminating in their attempt to join the Magic Castle, billing themselves as the world's first neuromagicians. Everything is clearly explained for the layperson, in a crisp and engaging style. It's well worth a look.

My thanks to the publishers for sending it to Bookbag.

Although primarily aimed at children, Hocus Pocus by Paul Kieve mixes magic history and instruction to great effect. Other excellent popular science books include The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind by Steven Pinker, In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind by Eric R Kandel and Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard H Thaler and Cass R Sunstein.

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Buy Sleights of Mind by Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Sleights of Mind by Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde at Amazon.com.

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