Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Tricks of the Mind - Derren Brown

I was late to the Derren Brown party and missed most of his earlier series, but luckily I've caught up now. Like Penn and Teller across the pond with their cable show Bullshit, Brown is more than just a great entertainer; he is also known for using his stage-magician skills and psychological tricks to demonstrate and expose the tricks of fraudulent psychics and mediums (media??) which makes him OK in my book. Tricks of the Mind is a disjointed but tremendously entertaining mishmash of personal anecdotes, practical advice on sleight-of-hand and memory tricks, and scathing critiques of religion and pseudoscience; there's nothing particularly mind-blowing inside, but it's all worth a read.

There really isn't much structure to the book at all, but what little there is covers Brown's decision to become a stage magician, the tricks he learned on the way, and how these have affected his outlook on life. Among the anecdotes and practical tips, we hear how he studied the ways in which people actively fool themselves, eventually leading to his own exit from religion; there is also a lengthy discussion of bad science in the final chapter - as with the Brookmyre book, readers of Ben Goldacre will have heard it all before, but Brown has a nice way with words and gives a good, concise overview of the issues.

This isn't a book to read on the train - quite apart from the practical difficulties of practising the mnemonics and coin-palming tricks, there's also the fact that it's laugh-out-loud funny in places, and will get you some odd looks. Brown has quite a wicked sense of humour, and though it occasionally falls flat (I wasn't sure how to take all his mock-pompous declarations of how great his show was; certainly tongue in cheek but still rather uncomfortable), it makes for a very entertaining read. The memory tricks are also very useful, and I've even started using a few of them. You won't find out how to control anyone's mind, but there's plenty of good stuff here nonetheless.



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