Years of pleasure from this treasure trove of magic!
Have you ever had one of those dreams were you suddenly come into possession of a huge cache of magic books or apparatus? Nice dream, isn’t it? Unfortunately, when you wake up, the goodies are no longer there. Well, purchasing the Learned Pig CD-ROM book collection is like living this dream–only when you wake up, you still have the stuff!
In short, the Learned Pig collection is a tremendous value for the money. Where else can you get 50 or 60 books for the price of two or three printed volumes?
CD #1 has a marvelous variety of books. Si Stebbins explains his famous card setup in his own words and Stillwell of Stillwell handkerchief ball fame explains his handkerchief manipulation act. There is a very unusual manuscript on the frozen alive stunt, similar to what David Blaine did on live television, and Marco even offers his own very commercial sightless vision act. Plus there are books by Houdini, Robert-Houdin, J B Bobo and many others.
CD # 2 is a card worker’s dream! It has not one but three multivolume encyclopedias of card magic. Card Manipulations by Jean Hugard is in five volumes while More Card Manipulations runs into four volumes. Plus Ellis Stanyon has written four volumes of card effects.
I like CD #1 better than #2 (even though I already had the print edition of eight of the books) because of the greater variety of books, but many magicians will no doubt prefer disk #2. Some of the most outstanding books on CD #1 are the Encyclopedia of Card Tricks by Jean Hugard, Modern Coin Magic by J. B. Bobo and the Expert At The Card Table by Erdnase. Disk #2 includes Expert Card Technique and Royal Road To Card Magic by Hugard and Braue and Annemann’s Practical Mental Effects. These books alone are worth the price of the CDs.
When I got the CDs, I was surprised to find that all the books were saved as a single PDF file on each disk. This makes it impossible for the user to organize or sort the books, for example by author or subject, but it probably makes searching for a specific name or phrase in the entire collection much easier, as well as jumping from one book to another. All of the text in the books was scanned in and transformed via optical character recognition (OCR), into real computer type–text that you can select, copy, and paste into other programs. This means that you can print out just a snippet of a book if you wish, or send an excerpt to a fellow magician in e-mail to get his opinion on something. You can even have the computer, via speech synthesis, read from a book to you while you follow along with coins or a deck of cards in hand. Best of all, converting the books into text format allows searching of the full text of any book, so if you want to find out how to do a particular trick or sleight, you can quickly do a search of the entire collection to find an explanation.
The quality of the conversion to PDF is overall very good. The tables of contents of each book is hyperlinked to take the reader directly to the corresponding section. Some books are even hyperlinked to each other. For example, if you click a mention of an effect in one of the Stanyon books, it will take you directly to that effect, even if the effect is on a different page or in a different book entirely. On rare occasions I have found that a hyperlink does not work–it points to a location on the creator’s computer which, of course, we can’t access. Generally, though, I have found few errors in the books. One quibble is that I would prefer if the illustrations had been saved at a bit higher resolution, but for the most part they are all perfectly legible. I like it when a scan of the front cover of the book is included, as this gives more of a feeling of actually owning the book.
You could get something pretty close to a complete magical education out of the two Learned Pig CDs. There are books on sleight-of-hand magic, non-sleight-of-hand magic, card magic, novel magic, escapes, history, biography, mentalism, illusions and even patter and presentation (including one of the best books on the subject, Our Magic by Neville Maskelyne). There is even a book on self promotion, Making Magic Pay. Although this book is just a tad out of date (having been written while vaudeville was still alive) I suspect that magicians could pick up a few tips from this book even today. Some of the sample promotional letters could even be used with a little updating of the language. True, some of the books, such as the ones on chemical magic and handcuff escapes, are outdated today, but almost all have at least something to offer (and the book on handcuff escapes, written in Houdini’s time, is fascinating for its historical information). All in all, magic changes over the years quite a bit more slowly than, say, the field of computers.
Although this is a review, it is appropriate to add a few words on how to get the most out of this collection. One of the drawbacks of e-books is the inability to make notes in the margins or to mark one’s favorite effects in the table-of-contents. What I have done is to copy and paste the table of contents of each book into a word processing document and save it in an easily accessible place on my computer. That way, I can make all the notes for the book I want in the corresponding section of the word-processing document. Since I need to have my computer running when viewing an e-book anyway, it is no trouble to open this document at the same time I open an e-book.
All of the books in the collection have a colored or patterned frame around each page. These frames are not gaudy or distracting, and they help to differentiate each book from one another. Strictly speaking, you should not need to print any of the books as some of them are very large and you will lose some of the benefits of the electronic format, such as space saving and searchability. However, should you want to print one or two books in the collection, the colored frames around the pages can use up more ink or toner than necessary. One way to get around this is to go to the page setup dialog box in Adobe Acrobat and choose an enlargement percentage of something like 130%. This will increase the size of the page area on each sheet that comes out of the printer and decrease the size of the colored frame, saving ink. Also, needless to say, you should pay very close attention to which pages you want to print, as shown in the page status bar at the bottom of the Acrobat window and, in the print dialogue, enter that range of pages. You do not want to send to the printer all 5000+ pages of books on the CD!
Although it is a nice feeling to get totally free books on the Learned Pig website, it is definitely worth shelling out the money to buy these CDs. One gets so many books for the price, it is almost like getting them for free. The prices for comparable books at another magic e-book seller are much higher. In short, getting these Learned Pig CDs was like finding out a long-lost magician uncle had just died and left me two trunks full of magic books!
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