BoM: Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer

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Postby Dustin Stinett » 11/14/04 05:26 AM

Throughout the history of magic, scores of books on the art have been written specifically for the lay public. Some have reached iconographic status within the art it exposed, such as Hoffmanns Modern Magic; its stated purpose to teach the aspiring conjuror the craft. Some are what they are: blatant exposs with little redeeming value to the art. Few, however, have a sincerely stated purpose of offering secrets for the sole purpose of giving the reader an appreciation for the art; not so they might perform it, but so they might better enjoy its performance. Maskelyne and Devants Our Magic was one such book. By most accounts it sold poorly among its target market, the lay public, but it is embraced by conjurors today as a bedrock theoretical text.

Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer (Carroll & Graf, 2003) is also such a book. Its stated purpose is found in Mr. Steinmeyers words: My experience tells me that the story of magicians can only be understood when you understand their art. And secrets, being an essential part of the art, are indeed discussed throughout the book. I am delighted in the fact that, in the year or so since this book was published, I am unaware of anyone in magic screaming exposure! in regard to this book. This is not to say that there may not be some who might be whispering it in the darkened corners of their cloistered little world. If there are those among us saying that, they fall into two categories: the first have never read the book, but heard it exposed secrets. The second read the book, but failed to comprehend its message because they view the whole art of magic as revolving only around its secrets and any exposure threatens its fragile existence. The common thread of these two groups is a simple lack of awareness. The former need only read the book before passing judgment while the latters belief is shattered by the historical record: magic, even in the midst of this information age, continues to survive even gratuitous exposures, something Hiding the Elephant certainly is not. Is that, perhaps, because lay audiences are smarter than some magicians give them credit for? Apparently Jim Steinmeyer seems to think so, and in this book he treats the whole art of magic as well as his readers with the respect they both deserve.

Hiding the Elephant is a cross between detective story and magic history lesson. While it is the search for how, in 1918, Houdini could create the illusion of Jennie the elephant disappearing while on the stage of the New York Hippodrome, its also the story of how Mr. Steinmeyer was able to cause Midget the donkey to vanish while on stage at the 1995 Conference on Magic History in Los Angeles. Though somehow I doubt if Hiding the Donkey was ever considered as a possible title.

As someone who is enamored by the history of our art, it should come as no surprise that it was easy for me to be swept up by the story. What is truly wonderful about this book, given its success in the general marketplace, is that it clearly sweeps up those with only a passing, or even no, interest in magics history. For lay readers, I suspect, the detective story is the hook while the history lesson lays the foundation for the appreciation of the art. Weaving magical secrets in with the personalities who developed them gives the secrets a form of humanity of their own: the reader cares for and appreciates them far more than when a stranger mocks them while hiding behind a mask. And magicians who have ignored the historical aspect of their art may very well find themselves craving more, since Hiding the Elephant reveals only a small slice of magics past. But the slice Mr. Steinmeyer chose to carve outa necessity for his mission: how to hide a donkeyalso happens to be one of magic historys richest periods: the early 19th through the early 20th centuries. It was a period ripe with invention. The threads of technological invention, theatrical illusion and fraud were intertwined in a fascinating tapestry; the principal players from each camp the only ones able to grasp the confusing tangle behind it. These players lives crossed paths in ways that ranged from family members and friendly partners to competitive rivals and reviled adversaries. There were inventors and thieves; artists and swindlers.

The brief introduction of this cast of characters at the beginning of the book proves a helpful device. Even those already familiar with the names will benefit from the primer, even if its nothing more than a review. By way of introduction we find out Mr. Steinmeyers motive for pursuing old secrets that were never unveileda motive that transcends mere professional curiosity. This pursuit led him not only backstage (of both illusion and special effect), but also into the workshops of scientists and engineers from a time when they were first discovering things we take for granted today and, in some respects, remain hidden to this day. He starts with Houdini and his success at the Hippodrome. To understand this event, we must be taken further back into history, to the first uses of optics to create illusion and special effects. These scientific wonders find their way into the hands of opportunistic performers who are able to further develop the principles into practical stage illusions. Steinmeyer continues to weave his story, bringing us forward through time as we meet other magicians, mediums and illusionists: their lives, inventions and actions all playing a partdirectly or indirectlyin this wondrous tale when we are again brought back to the New York Hippodrome where we discover that the story doesnt end! (After all, all good stories are unpredictable.) But ultimately, after we first learn of magics turn toward the shock value of mutilation (vs. the pure astonishment of a perfect vanish), we make it back at the stage in Los Angeles where our travels over more than 100 years of magics colorful history culminate with the successful disappearance of Midget the donkey. We are all fortunate that Jim Steinmeyer discovered the secret to hiding a donkey. Had he not, we might not have had the pleasure of discovering Hiding the Elephant.

Dustin Stinett

PS: Mr. Steinmeyer (until now, I hope) was unaware that his book would be featured here. I made the announcement (though it was quickly replaced by pressing issues) prior to his announcement on the release of the paperback edition (with a new introduction by Teller) and that there would be a brief book-signing tour. Its not too late for the signing scheduled for the Los Angeles area. You can access that post here:

http://geniimagazine.com/forum/noncgi/u ... 0;t=001242
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Postby Matthew Field » 11/14/04 08:31 AM

I think the aspect of "Hiding the Elephant" that I most enjoyed and appreciated was the fact the Mr. Steinmeyer takes as a premise the fact that audiences don't believe that "magic" vanished the elephant; they know it's a trick.

If that's so, then what prevents this and other illusions from being more than a puzzle? In my reading of the Steinmeyer book, and in my own analysis, I think the public views stage illusions much the same way they view optical illusions, as things of wonder. (Obviously, judging from the performances of many illusionists, others disagree.)

The spectacle which illusions provide is not like special effects in movies, although the two are related. Georges Melies' extraordinary short films provided early audiences with something they had never seen -- men whose heads got removed, people exploding, the man in the moon getting hit with a rocket ship right in the eye.

Today, much of this seems quaint because contemporary audiences are much more sophisticated when it comes to the movies. When Edison showed audiences who had never seen a film the moving image of a train, head-on, approaching the camera, the audiences leapt from their seats and ran out of the theater. We have become inured to Meryl Streep being shown with a huge hole clear through her body ("Death Becomes Her"), Superman flying, flying saucers blowing up the White House -- you get the idea. A stage illusion brings this type of miracle into first-person immediacy. There are no camera tricks; you're seeing it for yourself. Even on television the effect is only slightly diminished.

Mr. Steinmeyer reasons, intelligently as always, that audiences would more deeply appreciate stage illusions if they had an inkling of what lay behind them. I think he's correct, at least for some audiences (the thinking ones). This gives them a better grounding in putting the illusion into a context, the better to allow them an analysis of what they are witnessing and, hopefully, to become even further amazed.

To bring his readers up to a common level of knowledge, he must do some explaining. But all his explanations are couched in terms which give lay readers an idea of what's going on without crossing over into what I would consider exposure. Yes, mirrors are used, but who today doesn't know that? You mean those boxes aren't there just for decoration? They might be involved in the trickery? What a shocker.

"Hiding the Elephant" was a joy for me to read, as are all of Jim Steinmeyer's books. It has enough history, science, strange personages and magic to please just about every reader.

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Postby MaxNY » 11/16/04 05:38 AM

I went to the book signing in NYC a couple of weeks ago, so I own the soft-cover version of this book. I was sick yesterday, and that is the only time I get to read. I finished the marvelous Genii mag Q & A (from last year), and settled down to read Jim's book. I haven't finished it yet, but at the bottom of page 58 (in the Davenport chapter) the typesetter split up the word demon------stration. I will never look at that word the same again.
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Postby timbrown » 11/23/04 02:06 PM

I just finished the book and plan to reread it during the Thanksgiving break. When I was about halfway through the book I started to wish that the book were longer because I was enjoying it immensely and wanting it to last.

My favorite story was that of Devant's vanishing motorcycle. David Copperfield performed the same illusion a number of years ago and with amazing results. I took my wife to his show in Pittsburgh and we purchased front row balcony seats. When the motorcycle disappeared (and David reappeared on the bike in the theater, far from the stage) my wife literally screamed with amazement (I won't tell you what she screamed but it was quite amusing to say the least). I had no idea that this illusion has such a long history and I have no idea how it was done. I only remember it as the defining moment in that particular show.

I also enjoyed the little story about the Oswald Ray who performed P.T. Selbit's "Crushing the Lady" illusion with no rehersal. Rae was fooled by the illusion (even as he performed it) and wanted to hold on to the "moment of astonishment" for as long as he could. When he was offered the opportunity to learn the secret he refused and he continued to perform the illusion for a full week, two performances per day, with no idea as to how it was done.

My favorite line from the book..."Magicians guard an empty safe".

I love this book.
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Postby AMCabral » 11/24/04 06:53 AM

I can't read anything about "ethics in magic" and "Just because you view a performance doesn't entitle you to cherry-pick it for bits and lines and effects..." without a startling vivid image of Harry Kellar interrupting a performance to walk on stage so he could wrest the secret of the Asrah levitation from J. N. Maskelyne. How far we've come...

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Postby Michael Kamen » 11/27/04 08:32 PM

A big thank you to Dustin and this thread for motivating me to buy and read Mr. Steinmeyer's excellent book over my Thanksgiving holiday. I was thoroughly inspired by it, and came away with a sense that so much scattered knowledge of magic history I have picked up over the years had finally been pulled together and fleshed out.

That said, I have to take the story as just that. Although Mr. Steinmeyer offers end notes discussing some of his sources, I found it difficult to connect many of the more value-laden contentions about persons and events with specific sources mentioned, since the notes are not referenced in the text. Also, I found the book to be in part an effort to paint a rather uncharitable view of Eric Weiss. Clearly by all accounts Houdini was a controversial figure, not universally well liked; possibly he also forfeited any right to more gracious treatment through his own (reportedly) vicious treatment of Robert-Houdin in his own book. Still, as an uneducated Jewish immigrant subject to the extreme anti-semitism of his time and struggling for his own respect, a more compassionate handling was certainly possible. That no sensitivity was displayed by Mr. Steinmeyer in this regard is, to me, one of the book's few but glaring flaws as a historical record.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 11/27/04 09:58 PM

Most accounts give credence to the notion that Houdini was an egomaniacal jerk at least a good deal of the time.
Many of the performers in Vaudeville were Jewish, so he didn't face anything that the other performers also didn't face.
Anyone else notice that paragraph in the new issue of "Magicol" in the article by Tad Ware that appears to take a rather nasty swipe at both Hiding the Elephant and Jim Steinmeyer?
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Postby Richard Hatch » 11/27/04 11:07 PM

Originally posted by Richard Kaufman:
Anyone else notice that paragraph in the new issue of "Magicol" in the article by Tad Ware that appears to take a rather nasty swipe at both Hiding the Elephant and Jim Steinmeyer?
Yeah, I noticed the reference to "an elephantine collection of exposures written rather obviously for profit..." and was surprised it wasn't cut by the editor. It marred an otherwise interesting article, I thought.
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 11/27/04 11:15 PM

Yes it did. Ware's article on Val Walker's Radium Girl illusion, where he offers evidence that Selbit's Sawing Through was inspired by the Radium Girl, is quite compelling, but unfortunately has a bitter edge to it. Not only is this venom apparent in this obvious elephantine swipe at Jim Steinmeyer (and other present-day illusionary innovators), but also toward Selbit. He offers a laundry list of Selbit's illusions using words like pilfered, poached, nicked, purloined, and filched when comparing source material. But yet, using Walker's own words, he says that Selbit asked for and was granted permission from Walker to use the concept in another illusion (the Sawing). If Selbit thought enough to ask Walker for permission, isn't it possible that he also asked the other performers from whom Ware accuses Selbit of theft? I think it quite likely since Selbit worked closely with several of his apparent victims.

At issue here is the sawing through illusion. Ware does not dispute that a description of a sawing in half appears in Robert-Houdins 1858 memoirs, just that Selbit was inspired by the Robert-Houdin account (considered a possibility by Steinmeyer and nothing more). He contends that Walker provided not only the method, but also the spark (Selbit adding only the saw and the name). His evidence is Walkers written recollection (published in Abracadabra in 1968) of Selbit asking him for permission to use the underlying concept of Radium Girl. Isnt it at all possible that Selbit saw Walkers illusion and put it together with the, at the time, very well-known Robert-Houdin account of a sawing in half illusion? After all, Ware accuses Selbit of creative rearrangement of others concepts. Steinmeyer, in fact, feels that no one can claim full credit for the spark of sawing through a woman since the idea was published well before the illusion itself was ever performedas far as anyone knows (since the Robert-Houdin account is discounted as creative writing by magic historians).

I applaud Tad Wares desire to correct the written record. But his zeal to insure Val Walkers rightful place in magic history seems to have led him to do it in an antagonistic way and that leaves a bit of sour taste.

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Postby Jamy Ian Swiss » 11/29/04 10:58 PM

The Kellar anecdote is likely apocryphal -- it is doubtful it ever occurred.

That said, the claim that we have come very far seems equally dubious, if not more so, given the mountain of evidence to the contrary.
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Postby John LeBlanc » 11/30/04 07:42 AM

Originally posted by Jamy Ian Swiss:
That said, the claim that we have come very far seems equally dubious, if not more so, given the mountain of evidence to the contrary.
I don't know. It's possible to go far and still get nowhere. It's called "going around in circles." Not that I'm suggesting... Well, maybe I am.

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Postby John LeBlanc » 11/30/04 07:50 AM

Originally posted by Michael Kamen:
Also, I found the book to be in part an effort to paint a rather uncharitable view of Eric Weiss. Clearly by all accounts Houdini was a controversial figure, not universally well liked; possibly he also forfeited any right to more gracious treatment through his own (reportedly) vicious treatment of Robert-Houdin in his own book. Still, as an uneducated Jewish immigrant subject to the extreme anti-semitism of his time and struggling for his own respect, a more compassionate handling was certainly possible. That no sensitivity was displayed by Mr. Steinmeyer in this regard is, to me, one of the book's few but glaring flaws as a historical record.
While it may be interesting to speculate as to Weiss' motivation for his occasional behavior towards others, it seems to me we are better served by accurate historical accounts. I don't consider that dispassionately trampling on the man's grave.

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Postby AMCabral » 11/30/04 09:53 AM

Originally posted by Jamy Ian Swiss:
The Kellar anecdote is likely apocryphal -- it is doubtful it ever occurred.
Pity. I find it fascinating. Not to mention hilarious.

That said, the claim that we have come very far seems equally dubious, if not more so, given the mountain of evidence to the contrary.
Not only is the claim equally if not more dubious, it was also sarcastic. But I didn't have an emoticon for that.

I don't think the behavior is at all acceptable, but it's certainly typical given the vagaries of human nature, and that alone makes me smile. Then again, I like boogers.

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Postby John LeBlanc » 11/30/04 10:49 AM

Originally posted by AntonioMCabral:
Then again, I like boogers.
No doubt served with fava beans and a nice Chianti?

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Postby magicam » 11/30/04 12:04 PM

Michael Kamen wrote:

Also, I found the book to be in part an effort to paint a rather uncharitable view of Eric Weiss. Clearly by all accounts Houdini was a controversial figure, not universally well liked; possibly he also forfeited any right to more gracious treatment through his own (reportedly) vicious treatment of Robert-Houdin in his own book. Still, as an uneducated Jewish immigrant subject to the extreme anti-semitism of his time and struggling for his own respect, a more compassionate handling was certainly possible. That no sensitivity was displayed by Mr. Steinmeyer in this regard is, to me, one of the book's few but glaring flaws as a historical record.
Houdini's treatment of Robert-Houdin was indeed vicious. Perhaps Michael Kamens use of the word "reportedly" properly reflects caution if he has not read The Unmasking. But it is probably safe to say that the general consensus amongst historians is that Houdini used the facts he dug up in a way that suited him best and to no benefit of Robert-Houdin or the historical record in many ways.

Three things to state at the outset: first, I have not read Jim Steinmeyers book in a continuous reading so perhaps Michael read something in there that I did not see. Second, genuine sensitivity to and appreciation of race, culture, etc., is a good thing, and can only lead to less discrimination and stereotyping. And third, I am not a Houdini expert.

That said, if Michael Kamen is suggesting that we should all appreciate and celebrate our differences, then I agree. But if he is saying that because there was (is) anti-Semitism in the world and because Houdini was Jewish and may have experienced anti-Semitism, that Steinmeyer should not tell it as he sees it, then I disagree. To me, not telling the truth (at least as the writer sees it in exercising good faith) because of a persons race and experiences is just as invidious as attacking them for their race, etc. Either way, IMHO it is discrimination. Why should Houdini be spared from the historical record or from educated opinions (and Steinmeyer is certainly qualified to state the same) just because he was Jewish or because there is prejudice against Jews? Compassion and sensitivity should not a fortiori mean distortion of the truth or convenient omission of historical fact. Alas, in some cases, todays politically-correct notions of compassion or sensitivity may not in fact serve the historical record.

At the risk of descending into a debate involving political correctness (which I have no desire to do), based on all the major Houdini biographies I have read, Im not at all sure that Houdini felt oppressed by his Jewish heritage or struggled for self-respect because of it. That he experienced anti-Semitism in his travels seems clear enough (read Kenneth Silvermans book), but can such experiences be pinpointed as the source of his motivations for doing what he did? If memory serves, he even took what appear to be a few anti-Semitic pokes at fellow performers. Even in Bernard C. Meyers Houdini: A Mind in Chains (A Psychoanalytic Portrait)(1976), the Houdini book which probably trots out the greatest number of theories about why Houdini did what he did (e.g., decapitation fascination, bondage obsession, penis captivus, vagina dentata, castration, cannibalism, hermaphroditism, fetishism, parricide, sadomasochism, etc.), I dont recall religious or cultural oppression or related self-respect issues as part of the laundry list discussed by Meyer.

Let Houdinis legacy be judged by the historical record (as best we can piece it together) and not by his race or religion. If his personal experiences are helpful in understanding why he acted the way he did, then those should be brought to light. But sensitivity to or compassion for his personal experiences should not be an excuse for avoiding fact-based discussions of his life, nor should any writer feel compelled to include an apologia in any such discussion if he/she does not in good faith see it as relevant.

Finally, this is not an attack on Michael. He is entitled to his own opinion and has stated it carefully and reasonably, in my opinion. These are just my thoughts and opinions in response.

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Postby Guest » 11/30/04 01:54 PM

Thanks, everyone, for comments on the book. It's always interesting to see what people find interesting or controversial.

A few comments.

Michael Kamen raises good points regarding Houdini's characters and struggles. Houdini has certainly been lionized, both in his own press and in the many books written since then. But it is true that many of his contemporaries found him difficult, and I believe that it's an insightful part of the story to explain why. I'm also a big fan of Al Jolson, but it's part of the public record that he was a monster offstage, as well as one of the greatest entertainers of all time. Perhaps the two aren't unrelated.

Jamy says that the Kellar story--walking up on stage--is apocryphal. I used to be one of the fellows who said that, and maybe he's quoting me from a talk I gave at the Los Angeles Conference several years ago. But it's interesting to look at the sources. We feel it's untrue because it seems silly, and a few people who should have been in a position to comment (like Will Stone, Valadon's assitant, who later wrote about Kellar at Egyptian Hall) didn't mention it. One presumes that Maskelyne, Valadon and Devant wouldn't have mentioned it. As near as I could tell, the source for the story seems to be Kellar's nephew, Frank. I think that this says something about how Kellar told the story, or how his family understood his resolve. So it may well represent a colorful anecdote or an exaggeration. Kellar himself seemed to want to deflect attention away from Valadon's part. But I also think that there's some significance to the story. Perhaps the best way to say it is: it's signicant that the story was told.

As for Tad Ware's article in Magicol, he's welcome to his opinion of my book. He says that it seems to have been written for the public and for profit. Gosh, I guess he's right. Those are misplaced insults, if indeed they are insults. His article on Selbit's creativity is certainly a curiosity. I disagree with his premise and I think there are simple explanations that have been overlooked, but again, Mr. Ware is entitled to his opinons. Selbit certainly doesn't need any defense from me.

I've been signed to a second book with this publisher. It's called 'The Glorious Deception' and is a full biography of William Robinson and Chung Ling Soo. I have a breif description of the book on the newsletter at my website (www.jimsteinmeyer.com). It will probably be out at the end of next year. It's been quite a chase and a lot of work, but I'm really looking forward to the end result.
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Postby Pete McCabe » 11/30/04 04:01 PM

I only started this book today, so I haven't even read most of this thread yet. But already I've come across one of the most profound statements on magic I've ever read.

"Unlike a mere deception or a simple secret, which gives the impression that something's been taken away, a great magician makes you feel like something's been given to you."

The above quote is from page 22. I can't wait to read the rest of the book.
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Postby Guest » 12/01/04 02:44 AM

The comparison of Houdini and Jolson is appropiate...despite the anti-semitism of the time, those two, along with Eddie Cantor, and others were the biggest stars of the day.
George Jessel and many others said, "Jolson was the greatest performer of the first half-century, and he was also the worst S.O.B., that ever lived."

It does cut both ways though...reading Silverman's book, Houdini is quoted using racial slurs, when the "N word" had more common usage.

At the last Los Angeles History Conference, evidence was revealed that the performer Brindemour, did handcuff dives and jail escapes before Houdini...which did not keep Houdini from claiming to be THE originator and attack and hurt Brindemour's career, dismissing him as one his his "imitators".(!)

The morning after Diana Ross pushed a former Supreme away from her, as they were performing at a Motown Anniversary TV show, the shoved Supreme, noting Ross's appalling behavior, added, "and it reminded me why she is, who she is, and what she acheived."
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Postby Guest » 12/01/04 11:09 AM

Originally posted by Jim Steinmeyer:
I've been signed to a second book with this publisher. It's called 'The Glorious Deception' and is a full biography of William Robinson and Chung Ling Soo.
Santa got my letter!
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Postby Lisa Cousins » 12/03/04 01:23 PM

Originally posted by Jamy Ian Swiss:
That said, the claim that we have come very far seems equally dubious, if not more so, given the mountain of evidence to the contrary.
Sorry, no sale. Ever spent time with Stanyon's Magic? The guy loves to attend magic shows, and then speculate on "how it was done" in very specific detail, with no apology, no blush, not the slightest sense that this is inappropriate or disrespectful to the performing magicians. I expect that readers of today would consider it an outrage if our magic magazines took this approach to show reviews, and yet Mr. Stanyon seems to consider it nothing more than good sport.

Another thing that becomes obvious in reading old magic periodicals is that the magicians of a century ago were saying the exact same things about how exposure is killing magic, how the kids of today have it so easy, how the real giants of magic are all dead, with nobody to fill their shoes. This type of hand-wringing sentiment comes to feel like an ever-present doleful chant that continually takes place beneath all of the magic that's actually being done.

And as for the Tad Ware spleen-venting, I would say that, given what a hot-button issue exposure has always been, and considering how this book was almost universally expected to raise the usual uproar, the amazing thing to me is not that there's one offended guy, but that we've only got the one.
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Postby Guest » 12/30/04 01:58 AM

I had an arrgument with someone who said that this book was exposure. It does detail how the elephant was vanished.
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Postby Matt777 » 12/05/08 02:05 PM

I have this book, but haven't got around to reading it yet. I must read it soon. It looks spectacular.
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Postby David » 01/22/09 10:18 PM

"Hiding the Elephant " is an fine book for layman and newcomers to magic history; however. For readers already familiar with Steinmeyer's writings it contains NOTHING new.
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Postby Kent Gunn » 01/22/09 10:47 PM

David,

You must have a dazzling knowledge of magical history if you find Steinmeyer's writings so elementary.

I, for one, would like to know how you came to be so very knowledgeable. Since Steinmeyer had a significant number of vignettes and illusion descriptions that, within his writings, are unique. So how you can say:

"For readers already familiar with Steinmeyer's writings it contains NOTHING new."

Were you already completely aware of how all those miracles were accomplished? Had you already heard every vignette he shared with us? The book wasn't about how the illusions were accomplished, it was about the history of magic.

Hiding the Elephant is a fantastic book for people steeped in magic lore. It is the writing of a literate man, wealthy in his accumulation of magical history. I for one, was entranced from the first page. I've read every book on magic history I could find. I'm no expert, but at 51 and having been actively involved in magic since my teens, I hope I'm not a newcomer. I pray I'm not a layman, and never figured that out.

Can you expand on why you feel this book is so puerile?
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Reason: Redundant word usage, redundant word usage
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 01/22/09 11:52 PM

Don't you get tired of snotty folks like that?
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Postby Lee Almond » 01/23/09 12:48 AM

Jim's book is the bomb, best book ever written on the history of our beloved art. The behind the scenes is priceless. Only Steinmeyer could write such a wonderful book. The history behind how Harry Kellar ripped off J.N. Maskelyne's levitation is priceless. Also interesting to note how pissed Kellar was at Thurston for being a "butcher" performing the levi. Rock on Jim! Peace all.
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Postby David » 01/23/09 11:56 AM

Kent Gunn wrote:David,

You must have a dazzling knowledge of magical history if you find Steinmeyer's writings so elementary.

I, for one, would like to know how you came to be so very knowledgeable. Since Steinmeyer had a significant number of vignettes and illusion descriptions that, within his writings, are unique. So how you can say:

"For readers already familiar with Steinmeyer's writings it contains NOTHING new."




Can you expand on why you feel this book is so puerile?

Can you point out anything in "Hiding the Elephant" that was not in taken from his other works ?
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 01/23/09 12:09 PM

David, why should WE take the time to defend YOUR remarks. If you want to go through the whole book and point out where every single word has been taken from something previously written, then do it. Otherwise, forget it.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 01/23/09 12:14 PM

David wrote:"Hiding the Elephant " is an fine book for layman and newcomers to magic history;...


The book is directed at the mass market with an eye toward encouraging an appreciation of our craft for things beyond the technology of trickery in isolation - to open up some historical perspective a sense that there's more to magic than "how it's done".
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Postby David » 01/23/09 01:59 PM

Kent Gunn wrote:David,
Can you expand on why you feel this book is so puerile?
Were you already completely aware of how all those miracles were accomplished? Had you already heard every vignette he shared with us?


Well, yes..... That was my point. Pretty much all the material in this book comes from:
Art & Artifice
The Glorious Deception
The Science Behind the Ghost
Magic Magazine
St. George's Hall
I'm not a historian or a collector, but all of these are on my book shelf, and most likely most of the people with even a little interest in magic history. In a review of a magic history book, on a site for magicians, it is not inappropriate to point out that this is not a book of new material.
If you don't already know this material, this is a fine introduction... for everybody else, you'd do better to
spend your money on any other os Steinmires's fine books.
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Postby Kent Gunn » 01/23/09 02:44 PM

Aha, I see where our views digress.

I suspect you did not read "Hiding the Elephant" when it was initially published. I suspect a casual glance of all those texts on your shelf would show at least the Robinson book was published after Elephant. That would have made it difficult for Herr Steinmeyer to have gleaned much material to put in an earlier book. That's some pretty serious nit-picking on my part.

I don't receive Magic Magazine, nor did I get the anthology of his writings. Thanks to you, I will now. Your casual dismissal of his work has generated some income for him!

I still feel you've missed the story in Hiding the Elephant. I suspect you were like a magician who goes to a beautifully produced magic show and never allows themselves the joy of experiencing the magic. I can hear you comment on the stairs or flaps and mirrors, if I listen carefully enough.

You are certainly entitled to your opinion. Someday when I care a great deal more than I do today, I'll google the publication dates of the books you listed . . . No, not really.

I'm just glad Mr. Steinmeyer writes magic books for the experts like you and for enthusiasts and layfolk, like me. I'm just glad I can still revel in a story well told. I'm glad I can still enjoy a magic show when I might discern a technique or two. I've never set foot on a large stage to perform. I've rarely performed magic for pay. I am a dillitante, a hobbyist, a mere tyro. I am no expert on the history of stage magic texts and I'm damned glad of it.

I stand corrected, quite happily. I believe you have won the point!
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Postby flynn » 01/23/09 03:38 PM

I for one didnt know about some of the behind the scenes stuff with the magicians like the rivalrys and animosities with one another. I know some magic history enough to know what was already going on in the book and this book made everything alot clearer. Even if your a magic history buff it was well told like Mr. Gunn said. I read the whole book almost at one setting except for the last two or three chapters which I just skimmed thru just to finnish it.
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 01/23/09 05:28 PM

Kent already noted that The Glorious Deception was published two years after Hiding the Elephant making it impossible for the latter to glean from the former. So I will add that, while David does not say it directly, he certainly implies that St. George's Hall was written by Jim Steinmeyer. That book, of course, was penned by Anne Davenport and John Salisse.

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Postby The Mish » 01/27/09 11:53 AM

first let me say how these book of the month reviews by Mr Stinett and the ensuing comments make me want to get all these books (more please)
How exciting that this book not only still available but one that i had passed over many times at my local library. This gem should certainly not be overlooked and i thank you people for bringing it to my attention. And if this work is "nothing new" i look forward to reading all the old stuff in Steinmeyers other books
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Postby Lee Almond » 01/27/09 09:30 PM

I will again remark this is a book which will last for generations. Yea I can see the future, LOL! Great work Jim a tip of the hat for a wonderful book. The behind the curtain information is priceless. The history of the levi makes this well worth the price of admission. You can smell the popcorn and the sound of the curtain opening. Time for the lady to float. Peace all.
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Postby mai-ling » 01/27/09 09:53 PM

i told jim that after i finished reading the book.
i learned so much from Hiding the Elephant that
he found it completely ironic with my history.

it is such a wonderful introduction to the history,
the art, and the magic behind the magic.
you will remember my name
http://www.mai-ling.net
world's youngest illusionista

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