Derren Brown’s “Tricks of the Mind”

Derren Brown’s Tricks of the Mind was released in 2007. Obligatory disclaimer:  This book will not fully explain the tricks and illusions you see on television.  Instead, this book covers basic cognitive principles that allow these illusions to happen.

Derren Brown’s Tricks of the Mind is a good book; it covers a good bit of information on memory, suggestibility, and body language.  It’s good, but it’s hard to recommend to others.  The book begins with the idea that you know who Derren Brown is and that you are at least a little familiar with his television specials.  What you will learn in this book is filtered through Derren Brown’s prose, which is scattered, tangential, and often humorous.  Too often though, it felt as if passages that went on too long were placed just to increase the word count.  Additionally, the material covered in this book is so scattered that it often feels disjointed.  With exception of the chapter on memory, most of the material is covered at a level that is too shallow to gain much practical use of; instead, a good portion of this book serves as a primer for other subjects (like skepticism, suggestibility, or unconscious communication).

That’s the bad stuff.  The good news is that Tricks of the Mind is quite fun.  Many of the anecdotes are humorous (again, you are required to know who Derren Brown to find these at all interesting) even if they aren’t directly related to the content on hand.  The tone of the book varies from self-aggrandizing to self-deprecating, but it always tries to engage and humor the reader.  The most useful chapter is probably Memory, as it includes many things you can put into practice in your daily life.  Now, these techniques are not novel, but they are written in a very accessible way.  I would almost recommend this book based on the chapter alone.  Familiar psychological methods are brought up (linking, method of loci, peg system), but this book treats them as fun exercises rather than tedious phenomenon.  Another thing I really appreciated was Brown’s skepticism to his own anecdotes — while he is a hypnotist, he doesn’t make any ridiculous claims that aren’t confirmed by scientists.  The latter half of the book serves as a polemic against pseudoscience, mysticism, psychics, and other forms hogwash.  The end of the book provides a great list of books that are worth reading; it’s just nice that they are all listed in one convenient location for people who may be interested in pursuing more skeptic literature.

I think a lot of the material covered here is of interest to many, but I think the way it is written and the way that subjects are handled makes the barrier to entry a little higher than it ought to be.

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