My Favorite Magic Books: Harapan Ong

By Alex Robertson - Thursday, June 3, 2021

We asked some of magic's greatest minds to share with us their favorite magic books. This week is the turn of Harapan Ong. You may know him from his Instagram celebrity status, or for writing our best selling book of all time, Principia. over to Harapan:


I think it's fair to say that I love magic books. There's nothing quite like cracking open a new book and poring over every page, soaking up the information and hunting for that hidden gem, that hidden secret, that is going to change your life forever.

So it is fair to say that I can't pick just three of my favourite books. It's just not possible to narrow them down to three.

BUT since I'm being held at gunpoint by Vanishing Inc to write this, I'll do my best to choose just three books. I'm basing my choices on the fact that not only are these the books I most often recommend to others, but they are also books I find myself going back to the most often.

(Before we begin, a side note: you can check out my other book recommendations in my Fully Booked book reviews here on the V Inc blog, but also on my Instagram page @harapanong.)

Encyclopedia of Card Tricks by Jean Hugard

If there is one book that I've re-read the most often, it might actually be this classic. Why do I like it? Firstly, it is packed with so many different types of card tricks, and they are all categorized under distinct chapters - impromptu, gaffed (they are even categorised by the types of gaffs), stacks (memorised or cyclical) and so on. Secondly, the descriptions given for each trick is short and sweet. Hence, I can always rely on this book to give me a small injection of inspiration every time I pick it up and riffle through its pages. I can easily read through a few tricks in just a couple of minutes, and I can spend the rest of the day thinking about the plots and principles I've just read. Thirdly and finally, the book is really inexpensive. For the number of tricks this book has, this book is so incredibly affordable - talk about bang for your buck.

Are these tricks old-fashioned? Maybe some of them are. Are there books published after The Encyclopedia of Card Tricks that have more substantial routines? Of course. But if you are looking for a book with the highest density of ideas, concepts and tricks to inspire you for the rest of your life, you can't go wrong with this lovely book.

The Magic of Ascanio Vol. 1: The Structural Conception of Magic by Ascanio and Jesus Etcheverry

Whenever people ask me to recommend a book on magic theory, this book is almost inevitably the first book I recommend. Amongst the four Ascanio books in this series, it seems to be the one that goes out of stock the most often - and for good reason! When I first read the book, I found myself nodding my head in agreement to SO many of the ideas and sentiments written inside. His thoughts on misdirection and the section on routining principles alone will blow your mind. I know that his ideas regarding Anti-Contrasting Parentheses and the Parentheses of Forgetfulness have made me rethink and reevaluate a lot of my own creations. I also love the section on How to Study Magic, where I think not only are you able to gain some really solid advice from Ascanio himself, you can also really sense the deep passion he had for the art form, not just as a means to entertain but a legitimate field of study that a student of magic can and should take seriously.

Even if you are already well-versed with your magic technique, sleight-of-hand and basic theory, I still highly recommend this book because you will find that it frames the thoughts you might already have in such a clear and beautiful manner. It really does provide a great framework for gaining a deeper understanding of magic.

Focus by Phil Goldstein

When I first started buying magic books with my own money, I went for the classics and the must-reads - Vernon, Marlo, and so on. But for some unexplainable reason, one book caught my eye and I decided to add it to my cart as well. That book, Focus, has now somehow become one of my favourite books that I still often pick up and read from time to time.

Don't get me wrong. I know my tone sounds like I'm implying Focus is a bad book that "somehow" I ended up liking - that is far from the truth. Focus is in fact a fantastic book that I believe, as the kids say, "everyone is sleeping on". I think it is often overlooked because it is after all a book packed with... packet tricks. It contains 60 of Phil's packet tricks, and perhaps most magicians will just think it has 30 versions of Twisting the Aces and 30 versions of Oil and Water. In reality, the plots are so varied, I feel like it is a great overview of the types of card plots that are possible with a packet of cards - be it Twisting, Oil and Water, Assemblies, Cards Across, Transpositions, Elevator... you get the idea. And what I appreciate the most about this book is that the sleights employed, along with the construction of the tricks, are all very "conservative". What I mean is that they are very safe, often only using classic sleights that do not require you to bust your knuckles, and often relying on subtlety as opposed to brute force.

When asked which book has influenced them the most in their magic journey, most people quote Marlo, Vernon, Tamariz... oddly enough, I think one of the most influential books for me, in terms of how I construct my card magic, might actually be Focus.

(As further evidence of how influential it was to me, Focus contains 60 tricks. Guess how many tricks my book Principia contains? 60 as well, baby.)

And those are the three I would choose to be my favourite books. Now, can you please stop pointing the gun at my head?

Bonus: Designing Miracles by Darwin Ortiz

Reader comments:


Thursday, 03 June 2021 17:02 PM - Reply to this comment

Very nice! and I'm glad a bonus was slipped in at the end.


Friday, 04 June 2021 00:38 AM - Reply to this comment

I have all three (four) of these books and love them all. Ironically, if Harapan's list was subconsciously listed in 1-4 order, I love love all three (four) of them in rougly the reverse order.

Absent some books on magic theory (i.e., such as the Ascanio book listed down below), I think "Designing Miracles" is the best magic book I have ever read. I first bought the DVD to listen to as I'm traveling on the road long distance. Unfortunately, I have never gotten past the first third of the audio book. WITHOUT FAIL, Darwin's book is so thought-provoking that I key on a point being made, dwell on it for 5-10 minutes as I think of how I am using this key point and can now use the key point....and when I come back to the DVD,Darwin has somehow (grin) managed to "leap ahead" of me 5-10 minutes into the audio book...and now I'm in rewind mode as I try to regain the point on the DVD where I went off on this "frolic and banter personal journey" on my own. I have come to accept my personal limitations and foibles...and the fact that I will NEVER get through the DVD. Too much self-reflection going on. Solution? I bought the book and am now able to stop for self-reflection and not "lose my place" in the book.(grin) KILLER MAGIC BOOK!! (AND, VANISHING INC. MAGIC HAS THIS BOOK ON SALE...AND IN STOCK!)

I love "Focus". It's a very well-thought out book. and many of the tricks can be performed virtually impromptu...and, if desired, from a borrowed deck. The story lines are interesting, varied and brief. The explanations are also brief and clearly written..and any sleight taught is only taught in the first trick in which the trick is utilized. But, so you can easily learn the sleights, there is an "Index of Sleights" (at the end of the book) which lists the trick in which this sleight is first use and explained. THIS BOOK HAS BEEN OUT OF STOCK FOR YEARS!! Hopefully, the author will see his way clear to reprint this book.

I just recently purchased "The Magic of Ascanio, vol 1, The Structural Conception of Magic" and it is all the book that I had hoped it would be. Do yourself a the list of topics that Andi and Joshua have posted about this book..and you'll understand why this book keeps getting re-printed...and keeps selling out and going out of stock. AND, VANISHING INC. MAGIC HAS THIS BOOK ON SALE!

Finally, "Encyclopedia of Card Tricks by Jean Hugard" What can I say? This book is a classic in magic for a reason. If you like card magic (or even if you do not), this book is a must read and a must have. (BONUS: And, the softbound version of this book is currently on sale at Vanishing Inc. Magic for just slightly more than the download version.

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