Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Channel 4 Books; New Ed edition (8 Oct 2007)
Darren Brown is a magician and mentalist. His programs have caused an amount of controversy, since he's not usually billed as what he actually is, thereby causing a certain frisson. Playing Russian Roulette live on television is but one example thereof.
This book, though, is much more upfront about what he's doing, and it explains how he got to where he is (stage magician with a specialisation in mind tricks and memory), and how much of it works. He digresses on occasion, explaining how he ended up realising that he couldn't believe in Christianity with no proof for its claims. Since he'd gone into University as one of those happy clappy types who earnestly tries to save his fellows, only to become somewhat persona non grata among the rest of his congregation when his interests led though illusions and into hypnosis, this was quite a life change. But he's a man who lives by reason, and if faith requires reason to be put aside, then he refuses.
There are some fascinating parts to this book. One particular section is about how to memorise lists of stuff. He describes two particular techniques: the first involves imagining a vivid (and thus memorable) link between each pair of items, thus allowing a chain of links from one end to the other. The other technique (which overcomes the chain's problem that one link lost loses the rest of the chain) is that of the loci, or memory palace, a technique which associates each item in a list with an item in a walk through a known place. He gives a specific case of the 39 plays of Shakespeare showing how he connects them to an imagined trip through the corridors of Cambridge Theatre in London.
(And this used to be taught, until the churches banned it!)
The section on hypnosis is more equivocal, as he points out that hypnosis is still not understood. He explains the current hypotheses with an even handedness that the theoreticians are probably incapable of.
The final section is where he takes on the irrationality in the paranormal industry. As someone who makes a living from magic, and knows exactly how it really works, he is strongly against the charlatans who make money out of people's fears as psychics, mental healers, reiki specialists, and so on. There's probably not an awful lot that's actually new in this section, not if you keep an eye out on the various frauds from the homoeopaths down, but he does demonstrate how such movements end up being self-perpetuating, simply because many practitioners start off by deceiving themselves first.
Oh, and he also explains how the Ouija board works.
Hard going in places, but fascinating.