Tricks of the Mind

by Derren Brown
June 26th, 2010

Most Americans have never heard of Derren Brown. He is quite a celebrity in Britain because of a television show he presented for several years. This book the philosophy and expertise that underlies Mr. Brown’s peculiar talent.

Mr. Brown is an entertainer, although some people would characterize him as a magician. Mr. Brown denies that he is a magician or a psychic; he avers instead that he is merely an entertainer. What he does is certainly unique: it’s a combination of legerdemain, misdirection, a few simple tricks, and a great deal of psychology. What makes it especially entertaining is we know the Mr. Brown’s techniques are based on clever tricks, and he knows that we know, and he plays to our knowledge. In effect, he brings us into the act, making it more of a lesson in human nature than a demonstration of psychic skills. Watch this short video of one of Mr. Brown’s stunts:

I purchased this book to learn about common human mental flaws, but I learned much more than that. Mr. Brown is an engaging writer, tossing off bits of psychology, physics, philosophy, logic, and other disparate areas in a flowing style that makes perfect sense. His revelations about just how weak-minded homo sapiens can be are hilarious yet, on a deeper level, quite disturbing. We are hopelessly stupid!

Mr. Brown’s greatest strength, however, is moral: he has a strict code of ethical behavior and he thinks deeply about the ethical issues arising from his work. He gently pokes fun at all of us while treating each of us with respect. He loudly condemns those charlatans who claim that they truly are possessed of psychic powers, and is especially harsh on those who exploit people who have suffered a tragedy.

Above all, Mr. Brown’s integrity shines through clearly on page after page. He readily admits to his mistakes, acknowledges his uncertainties, and makes his points with true humility. Although he is famous in Britain, he does not take his celebrity seriously -- he knows all too well how little that means.

I was much impressed with this book and learned a great deal from it. Seldom do I unreservedly recommend a book, but this book is that rare exception.