The supernatural, the occult, the mysterious and the stupefying all intrigue the human conscience with a magnetic pull that has mesmerized us collectively for millennia.
The broad appeal of the mentalism genre is possibly that it manages to position itself just within that grey area of plausibility: ‘It’s magic, but it’s not’.
Shows like The Mentalist have made mentalism immensely popular today but its history goes back much further. Several prominent historical figures – Rasputin, for example – have been suspected of being mentalists for their uncanny abilities to influence the people and events around them.
Whether you want to explore the early history and original ideas behind mentalism, discover the basics of its practice, or even if you want to be just like Thomas Jane from The Mentalist, here a two classic mentalism books to get you started on your way. The listed below are the best mentalism books for beginners
1. Practical Mental Magic by Theodore Annemann
In his tragically short life of just 35 years, Annemann proved himself a master of performance, captivating audiences with a combination of theatrical presentation and seemingly impossible magical illusion, including the ��Catch a Bullet with Teeth’ trick. This book has been compiled from his notes and techniques.
First published in 1983 by specialist publishing house Dover Magic Books, Practical Mental Magic is a repository of information for everyone from the novice to the advanced mentalist. It touches on a host of threads that make up the mentalism genre.
They are separated into twelve categories:
• Money Mentalism
• Thought Foretold
• Psychic Codes
• Mentalism with Cards
• Blindfold Reading
• Book Tests
• Billets and Pellets
• Slate Routines
• Envelope Necromancy
• Dead or Alive
• Miscellaneous Mental Masterpieces
• Publicity Effects
Under these 12 categories, Annemann divulges the secrets behind almost 200 feats of mentalism.
His intended audience is clearly the professional illusionist, because each trick is explored in depth and explanations are accompanied by learning aids. By using these features, however, any reader may, with enough practice, recreate the act with polish.
Of course, the curious individual with no intention of performing the act himself also benefits – he is given an inside look at the world behind the velvet curtains of the stage so he need never be the target of deception himself.
The book also delves into the psychology of audiences and explores crowd-pleasing games which involve participation by multiple audience members. It reveals deceptively simple tricks that beguile even astute observers.
Be mindful that Annemann was a product and a performer of a bygone era so some of the tricks included in the book may seem dated. However, the principles behind them have not changed (nor will they), but mentalists today have merely been updated and adapted to the more sophisticated audiences they face.
For an aspiring mentalist looking for inspiration to create a wondrous on-stage persona and spectacle of his own, Practical Mental Magic is a treasury of techniques that will facilitate the process.
Practicing mentalists will find the book to be a helpful aid in their evolution as practitioners of the art. The curious layperson will find his curiosity sated and perhaps even discover new ways of looking at and perceiving the world around him.
All round, Practical Mental Magic by Theodore Annemann is a solid investment if you want to discover the essence of mentalism.
2. Thirteen Steps to Mentalism by Tony Corinda
Presented with a cover that does not seem to have been updated from its first publication in 1961, the Thirteen Steps to Mentalism is nevertheless a timeless piece of mentalism literature by renowned and prolific English mentalist, Tony Corinda.
Corinda passed away recently in 2010, but his work lives on in print, video and in the work of countless modern mentalists across the globe.
Thirteen Steps to Mentalism is considered a tour de force of the genre and a must-read for anyone considering a career in the field. Corinda first published the contents as thirteen discrete booklets of a course in mentalism.
The lessons in those booklets become the thirteen chapters of this volume:
• Patter and Presentation
• Mnemonics and Mental Systems
• Mediumistic Stunts
• Two Person Telepathy
• Pencil, Lip, Sound and Muscle reading
• Card Tricks
• Blindfolds and X-Rays
• Question and Answer Effects
• Swami Gimmicks
• Book Tests and Supplement
• Publicity Stunts
Corinda, being the eminent mentalist that he was, always had a way with words, and his prose flows well in his book. He manages to convey complex systems of thought and action in a way that is easily understood and, perhaps more importantly, easily acted upon.
It is this trait that has made Thirteen Steps a veritable first textbook for magicians and mentalists.
Despite its age of over five decades, the principles it expounds hold as true today as they ever did in the past. Like Annemann’s Practical Mental Magic, Thirteen Steps lays the ground rules for the mentalist’s act, and does not expect the practitioner to imitate the examples without thought and his own creativity.
In fact, Corinda seems to have intentionally alluded to the need for such personalization in his descriptions. His terminology varies between the precise when discussing the rationale behind an action or word, to the ambiguous when conveying the process itself.
The perceptive aspiring mentalist will spot these clues as hints and inspiration to craft a stage experience all his own.
The strength of Corinda’s performances lay in his ability to introduce small variations to an ordinary action to transform it into something extraordinary. This is most readily observed in his Blindfold tricks.
He was a master of manipulating not just his immediate audience, but the masses as well. A lot of his early success that propelled him from just another magician to a powerhouse of mentalism was due to his exceptional understanding of the basics of publicity. He lays bare his secrets in a dedicated chapter.
A deeply informative read and an essential part of the mentalist’s library.
It is unfortunate that many younger readers who peruse these two books after having read more recent publications on the topic fail to recognize their importance. They seem amazed at the prolonged success these books have enjoyed.
The closest analogy would be pooh-poohing the early vehicles of Karl Benz and Henry Ford because they could not travel as fast as a modern day Ferrari.
Practical Mental Magic and Thirteen Steps to Mentalism are an irreplaceable part of the history of the art, and an eye-opening insight into the origins of the craft. They are must-haves for any magic and mentalism aficionado, or a serious mentalist who appreciates that the masters always have something left to teach.