Look beyond the birthday parties and 10-gallon top hats, and magicians have a long—and honestly pretty ridiculous—history going for them. For his new book, Trade of the Tricks: Inside the Magician’s Craft (out September 26 on the University of California Press), anthropologist Graham Jones went native with this most magical subculture in order to learn their secrets. We spoke to Jones about some of his most surprising findings.
1. Magicians Are The Original Mythbusters!
If you're an authority looking to debunk some supposedly supernatural activity, you may have a magician on speed dial. “Since the nineteenth century, magicians have crusaded against superstitious beliefs, debunking the tricks of mediums, healers, and mystics,” Jones says. “It's part public service, part publicity stunt, but it also helps ensure that magic doesn't get confused with these more dangerous deceptions.” Case in point: In 1856, the French military sent that day’s David Copperfield to Algeria to debunk the supposedly miraculous abilities of the indigenous religious leaders. “To this day, magicians work alongside physicists and other scientists at places like the University of Nice, investigating paranormal claims and crusading against people who falsely claim paranormal abilities,” Jones says.
2. Magicians Are Frenemies With Each Other!
Sometimes a trick isn’t just a trick—and competition for the know-how needed to pull of the latest and greatest illusion can be fierce. “Secrets often cause conflicts among magicians,” Jones says. “They can be stolen and even destroyed, but is by sharing secrets that magicians ultimately form a community.” Cool thought of the day: The amazing illusions that have been lost forever by territorial magicians who feared others finding out their secrets.
3. The French Government Pays Magicians!
If you’re a would-be David Blaine, you may be better off moving to France—the government subsidizes the craft by paying professional magicians a monthly subsidy. Making money appear actually is the coolest trick of all.