Illusionology by Emily Hawkins (and many MANY others!)

A truly gorgeous book this, I just had to review it and show you all.

Publisher: Templar ISBN: 9781848772083 Published: 1/3/2012

This is, quite simply, a beautiful book. I mean, the cover alone is this brilliant mix of brassy steampunk glory and magician’s paraphernalia. It’s a large book too (about 1 and half times A4) so the book just feels spectacular even before you open it.

But what about when you have peeled the cover open? Well…


Seriously, every page is like this – beautiful big illustrations surrounded by masses of information (all in bitesize chunky boxes), all crammed higgeldy piggeldy so there’s something new to appreciate each time you flick open that next page. Oh, and keeping with the steampunky cover, it’s all got more than a hint of Victoriana to it, which is fitting considering that I at least can’t help but think of magicians being best associiated with that era. I’ve just got an image in my head of gowned ladies and top-hatted gentleman in packed theatres gasping at the magician as he’s lit by the limelight on stage, dazzling the audience with his smoke and mirrors. This book just instantly brings that image right to the forefront of my mind when I open the cover and I can’t help but kept as caught up as that audience in the sheer spectacle of it all.

Right… and now I’ve got my little explosion of love for the look and feel of the book out the way (seriously, I could go on about how beautifully this book has been put together – hats off to illustrators (David Wyatt, Tomislav Tomic and recent Carnegie winner Levi Pinfold) on this), what’s actually in this book?

Well, for a start it covers the history of magic with references not only to famous magicians and escapologists such as Houdini (see above), but also to lesser known magicians and modern day magicmen like Dynamo (recently seen levitating beside a London bus – as you do. Thanks to Mr Ripley for the link). Interestingly, it also explains exactly why these magicians became famous and in some cases it explains the secrets behind their most famous tricks – which a magician is of course supposed to guard most jealously.

Unless of course you’re John Nevil Maskelyne, whose trick got pinched from him by Harry Kellar. According to the above picture, you just can’t trust the staff…

I also like the multi-levelednesss of it (that is a word… honest. Or at least it is on this blog anyway). On every other page there’s a bunch of flaps to open, or little envelopes to pull more cards out of, or things to open up and see. It’s almost as if the author couldn’t find another page space to fit it all in, so the book had to be expanded and given new flaps and fold-outs to accomodate all the information. This book is full, ladies and gentlemen.

Just.. no…space on physcial page for Blaise Manfre! Must…put..on….flap!

And on the other side – a learned pig. Of course.

Instructions for a trick

And if you’ll excuse the nail varnish – just one more piece of information squeezed into an envelope

It explains how the tricks work too, including this rather nice example of how the brain can be tricked into translating something it really shouldn’t be able to:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASomehow the oh-so-simple explanation for why a trick works is more interesting than how it works, especially in this case where a jumbled up sentance demonstrates neatly how ‘…we “see” what we expect to see, not always what is actually there’. That is of course the great skill of magic and illusion – getting your audiences’ minds to fill in for you so that they see what you want them to think they’re seeing.

Not forgetting of course that whilst you’re reading about magicians, their tricks and why/how their mysteries work, you can of course try out a few tricks of your own with neat little instructions hidden amongst the flaps and envelopes:


Not to mention the emphasis the book places on the three P’s of magic – Practice, Performance, and Patter. It makes sense – practice (to make sure that coin you palmed doesn’t bounce off into the wings), performance (so you can do it outside the sanctuary of your bedroom with people watching) and patter (to distract your audience from noticing the bits they’re not supposed to).

One last thing to note in this book’s favour is that as an ex-History student, I love me a bit of research and this book clearly had a lot of people bent over books before it got put together. The list of publsiher thanks and books acknowledged at the book is extensive (citing not least The Magic Circle as well as many, MANY others), but I love that they included this – it give the real magic fan new places to go for more information. There’s also included a list of books to go on to as well for those who want to brush up their skills. I cannot applaud this enough, I adore a book that gives you signposts on where to go next. It’s almost like it’s encouraging you to learn more, whilst letting you do the actual research and gain the skills from doing so – just brilliant.

The only real downside to this book that I can find is that with so many flaps and whatnot it’s easy to see how the book could get damaged. However, this is a book that is clearly intended for an older reader (say, about 9 upwards) so the likelihood of it getting damaged is probably lower in the first place. I’m only guessing at 9 years and upwards by the way simply because of the sheer amount of writing in it and the detail too – the paragraphs are not exactly easy reading and I’d say they were on a par with upper Key Stage 2 readers. I also think that unless they’re a dedicated magic fan, a younger reader may balk at the sheer amount there is to read too. If I read this all the way through, cover to cover, it would take me an hour or two I reckon and I am a very fast reader. With that in mind, I could easily see a younger reader becoming intimidated by the text.

It is a beautifully thought out book though, the kind that I love to have on my bookshelf. The artwork is gorgeous and the sheer amount of information makes it worth the RRP. It’s densely detailed and crammed with new things to discover, both historical and new. This sort of book is the kind that if I ever remembered to apply in time, I would nominate to distribute to strangers on World Book Night – it’s too lovely a piece to go unnoticed!

Find Illusionology here.

Thank you to ├╝ber-blogger Mr Ripley for kindly pointing out some publishing crediting I’d missed in a Twitter convo – I am indeed a blogging dodo to your bookish genie! Oh, and in case you were wondering, the full list of creditors listed in the back of this book is: The Magic Circle, Amanda Wood, Sarah Ketchersid, Rachel Williams, Katie Cotton, Jon Lambert and Mike Sitch; illustrators Levi Pinfold, David Wyatt and Tomislav Tomic; Books Magic 1400’s-1950’s by Mike Caveney, Jim Steinmeyer, Ricky Jay and Noel Daniels, Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer, Hocus Pocus by Paul Kieve and Magic: A Picture History by Milbourne Christopher. Altogther along with author Emily Hawkins they have put together one very beautiful and very impressive book, I think you’ll agree.


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