A history of conjuring that's lively, opinionated, and impeccably well informed--just what you'd expect from the ""Amazing"" Randi, master magician-turned-masterful debunker (Flim-Flam!, 1980, etc.). Ranch kicks off with a dig at his pet peeve, conjurers who gussy up their skills at deception with claims of magical powers. That point made (though individual sinners such as Lift Geller get skewered later on), it's on to a high-spirited run through millennia of conjuring, from ""miracles"" at the Pharaonic court of Cheops to the postmodern antics of Penn and Teller. Though Ranch groups some of his material under types of conjuring--escape artistry, mentalism, pocket-picking, and the risky art of ""catching bullets,"" etc.--he focuses primarily on individual conjurers (Robert-Houdin, the Blackstones, Howard Thurston, David Copperfield, and so on), shedding new light on even the most famous. Houdini, for example, was no great shakes at sleight-of-hand; and readers wondering about former headliner Doug Henning's long absence from the conjuring scene will learn that he ""gave up his profession, sold all his props, and moved to India to pursue Infinite Bliss."" Ranch covers Oriental conjuring as well (setting to rest any notion that the legendary ""Indian Rope Trick"" is anything but legend) and enriches his chronicle with autobiographical material, including how he once nearly suffocated while trying to escape from a locked safe. The only aspect of conjuring missing here, in fact, is any explanation of how the hundreds of stunts and tricks described were performed. Randi's allegiance to professional secrecy is understandable, but it's aggravating--though it does enhance the sense of wonder, which is boosted further by the many marvelous illustrations, including antique posters and photos of conjurers levitating and sawing women in half. A must for magic-lovers: smart, sassy, and more fun than a hatful of rabbits.