I just finished reading Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind by Alex Stone, and it was my most pleasurable read all year (the most thought-provoking and brain-altering was probably Antifragile).
The book was so pleasurable for me to read because I identified so closely with the author's journey. I've loved magic since I was about 7 years old, and for my whole life, I enjoyed "collecting" tricks and dabbling, barely squeaking by in my abilities. When I read about how the author failed in his first magic competition and then took to developing his skills seriously, that immediately rang true for me, as I find myself right now reinvigorated in my own study of magic, ever since cramming for and passing my audition to join the Magic Castle's Academy of Magical Arts as a Magician Member.
I don't care about what various reviews say about the book or how mad some magicians might be about some exposure of their methods in Alex's book. Alex does a major service to the art and science of magic by showing how special and powerful it can be when it's done right and what interesting intellectual and historical background there is to our amazing craft. There is no point to revealing secrets just for entertainment's sake, and that is certainly not what Alex does. He finally demystifies the hard work behind learning magic and gives magicians like me who want to improve their skills a whole lot of resources and ideas to check out.
I particularly enjoyed the sections on mentalism, psychology, and the deep relationship between computer science, math, and magic. A lot reminded me of the other awesome neuroscience and magic book I read a couple years ago: Sleights of Mind. In this book, though, I gained a profound appreciation for how many amazing magicians are computer scientists and physicists, and how many amazing scientists are hobbyist magicians! The sections on probability theory and shuffling math were mind-blowing too, and I can't wait to test out some of the things I learned.
Below are my copious notes on the book.