The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading by Ian Rowland
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii November, 2001)
Ian Rowland is a British mentalist, magician, and skeptic who, in 1998, released the first version of this book, which almost immediately not only sold out but gained tremendous recognition as a highly desirable work on the subject of cold reading. Now he has re-released the book in this new edition, and if you have any interest in cold reading whatsoever, you will want to go to his Website and obtain this richly informative volume.
There is no shortage of books on cold reading today, with dozens of titles readily available, from Robert Nelson's early works on the subject to Herb Dewey's now hard-to-get titles. The majority tend to focus on providing stock readings, ready to be memorized and put to use, perhaps organized in a manner that enable ready application to different "mechanisms," from Tarot to phrenology. Some works, such as many by Richard Webster, are exceedingly mechanistic, eliminating much of the improvisational and creative nature of cold reading, while focusing on pragmatic issues. Others are more ephemeral. Some are simple yet effective, like the Mental and Other Writings of William Larsen, Sr., which includes some useful material. Others are specialized, like Dewey's last (and still available) work, Mind-blowing Psychic Readings, which provides scripts for telephone readings. And of course, in the tradition of mentalism publishing, the value of some of the content is at times inversely proportional to the price asked.
The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading is one of the best works I've ever read on the subject. Although sample reading elements are provided from time to time, to me, books filled with such material, while they may be practical for the private reader and other moral knuckle-walkers, they do not otherwise make for interesting reading or even insight to the subject matter. Mr. Rowland, however, has not only a thorough understanding of his subject, but his approach to the concepts he presents is extremely well organized and logical, which does not come about without having had the opportunity to combine long thought with experience. The results of both show here in these pages.
The book is thoroughly instructional, while also serving as some-thing of a debunking text for those who have been misled into thinking that a psychic reading was a demonstration of supernatural ability. Although too detailed for most such casual readers, the book is not overly didactic, and the author's skeptical perspective does not pervade the text to a distracting degree. Once he defines his terms and intentions in the first section of about 20 pages, from there on he takes a direct and systematic approach to deconstructing his subject. In the next hundred pages or so he explains every aspect of how and why cold reading works, providing one of the most cogent analyses of the process of a psychic reading as I have ever come across. This is followed by a third section that includes examples of both improvised and prepared readings, and subsequent segments on "blocking techniques" and challenging psychics, along with a segment of final notes.
The book is thorough, clear, readable, and cleanly if simply produced. My one complaint is that the coven should be on slightly heavier stock; the lightweight glossy paper is extremely fragile and a poor choice, and the asking price certainly justifies the minute cost of real covers. If you want to understand cold reading, or gain insight into some of the reasons why sleazeballs like John Edward are successful, or if you want to explain cold reading to someone else, this is the text for you. If you want to memorize scripts so you can manipulate and prey upon people while you claim supernatural abilities, this book might be a start, but you will have to turn elsewhere for lengthy scripts, as well as approval.