From time to time I will be posting about the books, people, films and performers that have inspired and shaped my thinking. Today it is James Randi’s Flim Flam. I have had my copy of this seminal book for over twenty years, and it still inspires me to this day. It is not just about the contents of the book, but also about the way in which I came to possess my copy….
In my early twenties I was studying psychology at University College London, and spent my summers trying to earn a living as a street magician.
One day I wandered into a bookstore and came across Flim-Flam. Written by James Randi, the book was a treasure trove of skepticism, with chapters on all sorts of fascinating topics, including fake psychics, fairies and parapsychology. I was hooked and really, really, wanted a copy. There was just one problem. The book was expensive (it was an American import), and I had very little money.
I kept talking about the book to my then girlfriend, and she eventually came up with an interesting idea. She suggested that if the first £2 from each street collection were devoted to a ’Flim-Flam Fund’, I would be able to afford the book after about two weeks.
I pointed out that it was a great idea, except that I was only just making ends meet and couldn’t afford to lose the money. That’s when she explained the second half of her plan. She had worked out that if I ate just porridge and fruit, and drank only water (with the very occasional cup of coffee as a treat), I would be OK health-wise and could survive on a small amount of money. She reasoned that I might have a miserable couple of weeks, but would end up with a book that I really wanted.
So I did it. For about a fortnight, the first £2 came out of the hat and into the FFF. Each day I pretty much survived on porridge, fruit and water. Two weeks later I proudly walked into the bookstore, and bought my copy of Flim-Flam.
I still have that copy. In fact, it is sitting in front of me right now. The book has played an important role in my life, and set me thinking about studying for a PhD into the psychology of deception. Not only is it a wonderful read, but it reminds me that sometimes you have to suffer a little to achieve what you really want. On the downside, every time I open the book I get a funny taste of porridge in my mouth.
What book has changed or influenced your life, and why?