SUMMARY: A sequel to Strong Magic, and essential magic theory about creating impossible effects
Why should you care about a book that deals with magic theory? Designing Miracles by Darwin Ortiz, along with its companion and predecessor Strong Magic, is the kind of book that has the real potential to improve all your magic significantly, by changing the way you think about how magic effects are constructed and designed. We're not talking about constructing physical props here, but the construction of a magic trick in terms of the methods, the presentation, and all the decisions that go into putting together a trick, both as seen by your audience and the actions you actually do as magicians.
Darwin Ortiz' earlier book Strong Magic (1994), subtitled "Creative Showmanship for the Close-Up Magician", has rightly been applauded for being an outstanding work on the subject of showmanship in magic, and is widely regarded as a modern classic on the subject. There's plenty of resources that do a good job of teaching you the mechanics of magic, but for a routine really to feel magical, it requires good presentation. With a special emphasis on card magic, which is his own field of expertise, Darwin Ortiz has done magicians everywhere a real service with this magnificent tome about showmanship, which is well-organized, comprehensive, insightful, and supported with many practical examples. I highly, highly recommend it, because it's part of a rare breed. There's a gazillion books that will teach you new tricks, but very few good books that will teach you how to perform them. It's the kind of book that helped my magic more than a dozen videos or books with tricks.
But there is another important element of magic that is overlooked even more besides showmanship and that is the design of a magical effect. It is Darwin's thesis that besides the method used to accomplish an effect and the presentation of the effect, attention needs to be given to how a magical effect is constructed. And so more than a decade since the original publication of Strong Magic, Darwin Ortiz has produced a follow-up title, called Designing Miracles (2007), subtitled "Creating the Illusion of Impossibility". With this book, Darwin has made another wonderful and important contribution to magic theory, full of practical application, and essential reading for any magician who wants to understand why some effects amaze and why others don't, and more importantly, how to design effects so that they do create astonishment. Designing Miracles is not a cheap book, but you can consider it a valuable investment in helping you raise the level of all your magic.
So who is Darwin Ortiz, and why should we listen to what he has to say on this subject? Most magicians will already be familiar with his name, and recognize him as a leading authority on subjects like card manipulation and gambling. He's made important contributions to the world of game protection, even serving as a consultant to major casinos.
But of particular interest to us are the important contributions he's made to the world of magic, not only as a professional magician, entertainer, and creator of card magic, but as a writer, having authored several books about gambling and magic. He's highly respected for his work, and his two books on magic theory - including the one that is the subject of this review - have both made a big splash in the magic world, and are considered landmark publications. Given his wide experience, and the fact that he is a very clear thinker and careful writer, Darwin is well placed to address us on this subject.
1. Rare: Books on the subject that this title covers are very rare. That in itself makes Designing Miracles a landmark publication, and one that deserves to be widely known and read. Not only does Darwin Ortiz make an important and valuable contribution on this subject material, but he's one of the very few people doing so, and contributing to the discussion about magic design. Fortunately for us, he does such a fantastic job in doing so, that it's not a work that will need countless others to correct it.
2. Progressive: Darwin already made a wonderful contribution to magic theory with Strong Magic, and I found it hard to imagine that he'd be able to produce another book that was its equal, just as useful. Yet that's exactly what he's done with Designing Miracles. It's a great companion to its predecessor, and yet stands on its own as a contribution to a related but different subject.
3. Thorough: From the overview I've already given above, you'll have some idea of the main concepts that Darwin Ortiz explores and covers. This book covers a wide range of topics that can be applied to all kinds of magic, because it concerns the principles underlying strong magic. There's some incredibly useful content here, and this is a very important book. I can't think of any aspects of magic design that he has failed to give attention to, when it concerns the underlying theoretic framework of how a trick should be constructed. The book didn't feel repetitive, and really covers the subject material thoroughly and well.
4. Insightful: Darwin Ortiz is an extremely clear thinker, and his insights into the theory of magic are terrific. He's superb at analyzing the principles underlying strong magic, and evaluating what makes something work and what doesn't, and this book demonstrates that he has a real understanding of what makes good magic. He's not just good at making magic good, but understands why it works.
5. Clear: Darwin is also very good at explaining things, and his book is written in a very logical, clear and convincing manner. His flow of argument is very carefully and persuasively developed, and I constantly found myself thoroughly convinced of his position. He's a very analytical thinker, and does a superb job of explaining his thoughts in a very organized and systematic fashion, as is evidenced by his regular use of words like "first", "second", and "third", when explaining things carefully and cogently.
6. Interesting: A book about magic theory sounds like it might be academic, dry, and boring. I didn't expect myself to get drawn in as much as I did; to my surprise I found it compelling and fascinating, thinking about the principles and concepts Darwin explains, and applying these to the tricks I've performed and am working on. In addition to using examples from the world of magic, he also uses colourful examples from real life to illustrate his argument. He's a very clear thinker, and the examples he uses really demonstrate that he has a real gift in explaining things, and this has the added benefit of ensuring that his content is interesting to listen to.
7. Practical: Another real strength of this important work is that it is extremely practical. It would be a mistake to think that because this book is about the theory of magic that it is dry, abstract, boring, and to be avoided. To the contrary, Darwin Ortiz provides constant examples to support and illustrate the principles and ideas he is discussing. Many of his examples relate to card magic, and refer to effects that magicians will be familiar with. Many are also from his own books, including Darwin Ortiz at the Card Table (1988), CardShark (1995), and Scams and Fantasies with Cards (2002). As such, it's not just a book of pure theory, but is very much about theory made practical, or theory applied to real performance. And isn't that exactly what we magicians need?
8. Beneficial: Like Strong Magic, Designing Miracles is the kind of book that will change your thinking about magic. While it won't teach you a single trick, it will certainly help you make all the ones you do know better. As such, this is a book that has potential benefit more than any other book you'll read on magic, and I highly recommend it for that reason alone. And don't make the mistake of thinking that this is only a book for creators of magic. This book will help you have the skill you need to decide what tricks to perform, and when there are different ways of doing a trick, to decide which ones to use. It will also help you refine the tricks you're already doing to make them even better. It won't just tell you how to do things, but will you give you the skills you need to think for yourself and understand why some tricks works better than others, and then go out and be the very best magician you can possibly be.
9. Time-tested: It is evident that Darwin Ortiz works very hard to analyze his experiences and to systematically record his thoughts and insights, and that his books are the result of lengthy and careful reflection. Strong Magic took about 7 years to write, and Designing Miracles took about 9 years to write. He is considering a third book with a collection of essays discussing material that doesn't really fit in either existing book, but never rushes anything to publication, and as a result he still stands behind what he's written. In an interview six years after the original publication of Designing Miracles, Darwin stated that he has only become more convinced of the principles he describes in the book.
Many in the magic industry would regard Darwin Ortiz as being at the very forefront of thinkers on magic theory, and his Strong Magic is considered to be a seminal work, and one of the most significant contributions to magic theory in recent times. After such a fine work with Strong Magic, one might think that Darwin Ortiz was setting himself the impossible, because the brilliance of Strong Magic meant that it would be a very hard act to follow. Surely that modern classic could not be equalled, and a follow-up work would only be a let down. Fortunately for us, Darwin Ortiz is all about miracles and achieving the possible, and in Designing Miracles he's surpassed himself by writing another outstanding book on magic theory, one that stands besides Strong Magic as an independent work, and at the same time is a worthy equal, and will quickly be regarded as a classic alongside its predecessor.
Where Strong Magic succeeded in educating us in the key elements of showmanship, Designing Miracles succeeds in educating us about the key elements of constructing magical effects. Darwin Ortiz has a remarkable ability to think clearly and analyze why certain effects are so strong, and further to draw out the principles behind this which we can apply to our own magic. He's also a very clear communicator, and ensures that his explanations are enhanced with constant examples that illustrate well the points he's making.
Unlike most magic books, Designing Miracles is not about teaching us new tricks, nor is it about the methods and mechanics of magic. It's not even about presentation or showmanship first of all. Rather, this important book is all about teaching us how to design and construct tricks in such a way that the effects become all the more powerful and foolproof, creating the genuine impression of the truly impossible. It gives us the clear thinking we need to take the tricks we've learned and improve small aspects of them to make them even better. Building on those who have gone before him, and drawing on his own insights and experience through years of magic, this is a book that stands on the shoulders of giants, and stands head and shoulders above most magic books. I can't recommend this highly enough! - BoardGameGeek reviewer EndersGame