Book Review: The Spectacle of Illusion

Published to accompany an exhibition at the Wellcome Foundation in London 'Smoke & Mirrors: the Psychology of Magic" held from 11th April to 15th September 2019, The Spectacle of Illusion provides a thoughtful pictorial history of magic, spiritualism and the supernatural. 

The Spectacle of Illusion


Written by magician-turned-experimental psychologist Matthew L. Tompkins, the book explores the arts of deception as practised and popularised by mesmerists, magicians and psychics since the early 18th century. 

Here he discusses and demonstrates the disappearing coin trick

The greatest strength of the book is its superb collection and range of visual materials making it a wonderful introduction to the visual and material culture of early parapsychology. Here you will find hand illustrated theatre bills, double-exposure spirit photographs and photographs of spoon-bending from hitherto inaccessible and un-mined archives, including the Wellcome Collection, the Harry Price Library, the Society for Physical Research, and the Magic Circle’s closely guarded collection. Alongside these, he book also features newly commissioned photography of planchettes, rapping boards, tilting tables, ectoplasm, automata and illusion boxes.

The book is laid out broadly chronologically in five 'acts' exploring the transformation of magic from early mesmerism and spiritualist phenomena, the work of master magicians, psychical research and parapsychological investigators. Throughout it interweaves the expertise and perspectives of both psychologists and magicians when exploring tricks and illusions. 

A great visually rich introduction to a fascinating subject....


Conjure up a copy 

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