Along the way he gives us a whistle-stop tour of magic, memory techniques (an excellent introduction), hypnosis (with a bit about NLP), unconscious communication and ‘cold reading, and pseudo-science and sloppy thinking.
Naturally, being an NLP trainer, it was the bit about NLP I turned to first. Derren attended a large course on which Richard Bandler was one of the trainers (with ‘four hundred or so delegates, some of whom were clearly either unbalanced or self-delusory’) which he found ‘highly evangelical’. He says it was a four-day course so it can’t have been Paul McKenna’s (unless Derren developed amnesia for some of the days) as this lasts for seven, as far as I know. Nevertheless, he likes NLP enough to include some nifty NLP self-help techniques (subtle mirroring and various submodality interventions including the phobia cure, mapping across and a couple of variations on the swish pattern for motivation and confidence) with step-by-step instructions.
By the way, if you only read one bit of the book, make it the ‘Confusion and Self-Defence’ section at the end of the hypnosis chapter – not only is it very funny, it could save your life some day.
The underlying attitude running through the book is one of skepticism – particularly about professional psychics and mediums. Given his background – an evangelical Christian in his teens, becoming disillusioned with it as he got into stage hypnotism and magic – it’s not surprising that he’s a skeptic. Having first-hand experience of how a circular belief system leads to an insistence on one particular interpretation of ‘reality’ while discounting all others, plus a professional’s command of the tools and tricks of mental deception, will do that to you.
The final section of the book, on ‘anti-science, pseudo-science, and bad thinking’ is excellent – a skewering of alternative medicine, cold-reading tricks used by charlatans, and the ‘thinking traps’ that seem to be almost hard-wired into our thought processes, leading us to see patterns where there are none in coincidences and making some people a magnet for scamsters.
The writing style is delightful – self-deprecating and very funny. I hadn’t actually seen that many of Derren’s TV shows (no, I’m not on first-name terms with him, but reading this book will make you feel like he’s your mate) but I’m now a confirmed fan.
Buy this book if a) you’re interested in the techniques he uses in his stage and TV shows, b) you want to improve your memory and confidence, c) you want to get better at thinking or d) you want a good laugh.