Astonishing Essays - Joshua Jay (Volume 10)

By Joshua Jay
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Astonishing Essays - Joshua Jay (Volume 10)

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As magicians, we deceive our audiences. But, are we also deceiving ourselves? Are there things—big things—that we get wrong about our craft? More importantly, are these things that our audience could identify, yet we never think to ask? The answers, it turns out, are “yes,” “yes,” and another resounding "yes.”

Offered as the final installment in the massively popular Astonishing Essays series, Magic by the Numbers by Joshua Jay examines an innovative research study about how magic is perceived and explores how much has changed in the years since it was commissioned.

Magicians have spoken at length about what they believe makes for a good magic trick. Yet, they almost never explore what audiences look for in a magic effect. In 2014, Joshua collaborated with a team of statisticians to step into the minds of people who watch magic.

He wanted to find the real answers to questions that magicians think they already know the answer to. How much do people actually like magic? What kinds of tricks are most memorable to an audience? What do people like most about magic? What do they like least?

The answers were surprising, shocking, and sometimes even slightly depressing. Some magicians took issue with the findings and questioned the collection techniques when they were first published in MAGIC Magazine. Others used the unexpected results of this wide-ranging survey to reshape their material. It was undeniable though that this was a thought-provoking and invaluable resource for becoming a better magician.

Now, eight years later, Joshua Jay sheds new light on this groundbreaking research with the Magic by the Numbers Astonishing Essay. The first half dives into an expanded version of the original article that includes previously-unpublished material. Joshua then discusses how our craft has evolved in recent years, sharing insights from new studies, experiments, and information that are immensely beneficial for the modern magician. Even if you loved Josh’s original essay and research, you’ll find lots here that has never seen print before.

This captivating essay explores the most interesting and applicable results of these studies, distilling down the lengthy academic texts into concise summaries that answer our most burning questions. He discusses important ideas like which card force is most effective, whether having items examined is better before or after an effect, whether an audience perceives a thought-of card or a selected card as stronger, and how well people remember details in a magic effect.

Offering a detailed look at the "moneyball" approach to magic pioneered by Joshua Jay, Magic by the Numbers is unlike any magic book or essay ever published. It is a must-read for any magician looking to improve their overall performance.

103 Pages | Softcover


Customer reviews for Astonishing Essays - Joshua Jay (Volume 10)



An absolute must for all magicians and mentalists. It helped me separate the good from the very good in my sets on the spectator side. Sometimes we forget that what can be very good for us may not be the most impactful for spectators and in that sense this “book” is an absolutely must for everyone.



Seeing Joshua Jay’s name should be enough. This is a breakdown of the only hard data we have on our art form and it has some real data that some of the things we take for absolutely true, are in fact not. This will change your show, or at least, it should.



Perhaps make your magic a little less impossible and perhaps audiences will embrace the astonishment more was my major take away from this book. Including the info on false solutions. Along with certain revelations about what do audiences feel about one in million shots as compared to one in four ? David Blaine, Max Maven and Derren Brown and many others have openly talked on this topic again and again.
There is fun humour in this book as well. Along with well justified clarifications and caveats raised with each question.
The topics covered will be of great and useful interest especially to performing magicians.
The book will also give you confidence to do certain things with the confidence of having a clearer idea of what is probable going on in certain spectators heads statistically speaking.
For the price asking for this book. It really should be a must have for every performer.
As well this book is just the beginning as it shows an example of the questions we should not be scared to ask or discover.
This review was written by a Journalism Graduate who has been published in major Newspapers and Magazines.
Do you take me more serious now ? :) :) :)



I recommend all the magicians read this book. It is very different from books like "strong magic". With this book, you can really see how people perceive magic, and you will find several things that will allow people to appreciate your magic more. I think that the number of participants in the studies of the book is not enough and not well distributed in the world (part one of the book) to have the right absolute values of the various statistics ; this number of participants is even unknown in the part two. But, from my own experience, I think they reflect the reality overall.


Raul (Jay)

The best thing about this book, is that the studies determine what best magic suits me. I love the part of which magic is the most entertaining to audiences, and when I found out that mentalism was the number one, I decided to get into that.

Magic is great and all, but it be nice to know what the audience thinks of the tricks that we do. Joshua J did a great job of asking the questions and coordinating the tests that determine how my show should come out.

I love doing tricks and all, but his questions and his tests really made me think about my magic and how I’d like to really understand an audience. We can just show Trix Taylor blue in the face but until we get the right audience reaction and feedback from them, I would feel bad about it because maybe they didn’t want to see any magic at all, but I just did it anyway.

Reading this book really got me aware of what magic I should and should not perform. And I’m really excited about getting into mentalism because I can see how entertaining and how engaged I can be with the right audiences who are receptive to this kind of thing and that may not be always, but it’s there when the time comes.

The great thing about this book also is that I’m a walk around magician that just does it for fun. I have no desire to be a professional performing magician. I am very much busy pursuing acting and being a singer songwriter here in Hollywood California. But once in a while I’d like to perform magic on the fly wherever I go. So it’s great to have this book because I realize that I will be doing magic for everyone. I have to pick and choose who the right audiences are, and this book help me discover all that!



Personally I think that volume 10 has the most valuable information, the stats are what we need!
Many of us prefer to exist in a bubble, not knowing or determingly closing eyes on some facts that are not proving out vision. With some of the facts from this book you can take a broader look, a look from outside, from neutral perspective on the craft we do. Some of the facts are fun, some are surprising but they do spark thoughts and make us think more outside of the box of our personal view.



Really worth the price and time to read. If you want to know what your audience is really thinking and what stands the best chance of you actually performing magic instead of presenting another trick this is a book that will help you nail it. I really enjoyed the entire book and it was good to read what also surprised Josh about the results of the studies. I have already made several changes to both the magic effects I do and more importantly to what I do or do not say during certain effects. One of the best magic books I have read in the past 2 years.



The essays number 10 that I purchased has been very helpful. and I've enjoyed reading it. In my opinion it is money well spent.

VI Monthly


This book is a quick read, but it provides a lot of valuable, insightful, and eye-opening information. This book is a must-have for anyone who wants to improve their magic.



Magic By the Numbers is amazing. The book will give you a new perspective on how your audience perceives your performance. It's loaded with data that can give you an edge over other performers, as you will be able to customize your show from your audience point of view.



Great little book. Sometimes we have to step back and take an honest assessment of what we are doing in our shows. Do we do it to bring the highest quality to our audience or are we doing what we do because they are our favorite tricks to perform. Read this book with an open mind then with that same open mind set down and evaluate your performance. Are there any change that can be made to better reach your crown. I personally have been making some adjustments to mine and the results have surprised me.



The last twelve months has seen two 'books' appear both of which are simply required reading. This is one of them. You'll be stunned by the findings and you'll be reaching for your notepad to record the details as it will, it must, make you do things differently. And here's the good news, there's nothing difficult in here. What you get for £20 is decades of perceived wisdom confirmed (often not) or details that you can call on to improve your chances for success. It's a steal and JJ has to be applauded.



This is a great read, wish I had this research years ago. The book covers everything from what audiences like and don’t like. Card forces, controls, pick vs think of a card and much more. A lot of surprises and good advice for those who want to take advantage of the research. Nicely done Josh and Vanishing Inc!



Overpriced like perfume. Good contents but you mostly pay for brand and packaging. Based in this essay I can only say: if the essays would be collected in a hard bound book they could not ask for this price per page (or word, to be more accurate).

The general premise of the research performed and the results presented are very good. The essay contains a fair amount of mythbusting regarding magicians' self-deception, which is extremely helpful. The new research section is promising, unfortunately this also means not always delivering.

Not so sure how diverse the survey participants where in terms of origin, some parts look like centered on anglo-american culture. That can, of course, be a subjective perception.

Would get three stars (=pretty good) if it did not have some serious shortcomings besides the price:

- Needlessly duplicated all graphs under the pretense of a "Just the facts" chapter, just adding page count without added value.
- Using 3D for 2D data depicting graphs is a no-no, especially for pie charts. The brain searches for extra meaning which is not there.
- There is no appendix with the references, which would fit into the somewhat scientific appearance the essay strives for.
- More transparency about the survey participants demographics would be needed.


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