What is a Magic Book Test

From Bicycle playing cards to coins and ropes, magicians use a lot of interesting props. Card tricks, coin tricks, linking rings, sawing a woman in half, and even the proverbial pulling a rabbit out of a hat, are all magic stereotypes. But, did you know, magicians also often use books to astound their audiences?

To clarify, we don’t mean reading magic books to learn magic tricks. We mean they physically use books to conduct feats of mind reading and mentalism.

A book is one of the most recognizable and innocent props you can hold. And that’s exactly why so many magicians and mentalists use them for a super popular sub-category of mental magic called “Book Tests.”

Zandman Great Gatsby Book Test

What is a Magic Book Test?

A basic magic book test involves a spectator opening up a book—usually a large book like a dictionary or encyclopedia— to a random page. They then choose a word on the page and either memorize it or secretly write it down.

Despite this word being seemingly freely chosen from a book filled with thousands of words, the magician is able to accurately guess which one they chose. This is often revealed either via a pre-written prediction, or a demonstration of telepathy or mind reading.

Performed well, a book test is quite possibly one of the most powerful mentalism tricks you can do. It makes you look like you truly have supernatural powers. In some cases, people might think you've actually managed to somehow memorize an entire book.

In fact, former International Brotherhood of Magicians President Shawn Farquhar fooled legendary Las Vegas Magicians Penn & Teller into thinking he memorized all of Sherlock Holmes when he performed his book test “Sheer Luck” on their hit TV show “Penn & Teller: Fool Us.”

Magician Shawn Farquhar and alyson hanigan performing sheer luck book test on penn and teller fool us

That being said, we’re happy to report that you don’t need to memorize an entire book to perform a book test. In fact, most book tests are quite easy to perform. Most of them don’t require any difficult sleight of hand or complex memory work. They can be learned by any beginner magician or mentalist.

For those curious though, it is actually actually possible to memorize entire books. American Public Speaker Tom Meyer, a.k.a “Bible Memory Man”, is known for his amazing ability to recite more than 20 complete books of the Bible from memory.

The History of Book Tests

This history of book tests and magicians using books as props for magic tricks is believed to go back as far as the 15th century. Renowned book publisher Girolamo Scotto, who is also credited with performing the first mentalism trick in history, is said to have created a book test for the Emperor of Austria in 1572.

A little under 40 years later, Italian magician Vanni Bossi introduced “The Labyrinth” book test. This popular mentalism prop was translated into English in 1610 and ultimately served as the inspiration for the many variations of book tests we know today.

The Different Types of Magic Book Tests

Look through the mentalism tricks section of any good online magic shop like Vanishing Inc. and you’ll find a wide range of different magic book tests for sale. Some, like the “Hoy Book Test” taught in the mentalism book that every mentalist should read, 13 Steps to Mentalism, can be done with just an ordinary book. Other book tests use specially-gimmicked books to offer their own unique variation.

In addition to knowing a word, some magic book tests allow you to know the page number, a full sentence or even what image is on the page. Some even use multiple books to get more members of the audience involved or make the trick feel more impossible.

The Best Book Tests for Mentalists and Magicians

Choosing the best book test is a difficult task that often comes down to personal preference.

For many years, The “Mother of All Book Tests” was considered the best book test for professional mentalists. Known in the mentalism community as simply MOABT, this magic book test is about as close to real mind-reading as you can get.

Glance book test by Steve Thompson

However, the high price tag of “Mother of All Book Tests’ can also be daunting for some. This is why many professional mentalists have suggested that Josh Zandman’s “Zandman Book Test", which uses classic novels like The Great Gatsby and Alice in Wonderland, is a great alternative.

If you want a book test that offers a very fair and free choice of a word, while also feeling organic and impromptu, “Glance" by Steve Thompson is the perfect option. It uses two ordinary looking magazines that look like they could have been grabbed from any convenience store. On the other hand, comedy magicians that want to make their audiences laugh might be more interested in Cody Fisher’s “Comedy Book Test”.

Anyone looking for a modern twist on the book test, should definitely check out Marc Kerstein’s WikiTest. This amazing magic app uses Wikipedia to create a one-of-a-kind book test that can be done using someone else’s cell phone. With no need to lug around heavy books, this is thought of by many as the perfect book test.

Learn How to Read Minds

learn how to read minds and be a mentalist and mind reader

Book tests are just one of the many popular mentalism tricks and parlor magic tricks we have available for you. There’s even some free mentalism tricks you can learn right now. Be sure to also check out our other articles to learn what cold reading is, explore if the TV show “The Mentalist” is real or fake, and discover the most famous mentalists you should definitely know!

A good mentalist must also keep their brain sharp. That’s why we also have some easy riddles with answers and challenging puzzles for adults you can use to train your brain.