Cover image for The magician and the cardsharp : the search for America's greatest sleight-of-hand artist
The magician and the cardsharp : the search for America's greatest sleight-of-hand artist
Johnson, Karl, 1959-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Henry Holt, 2005.
Physical Description:
xii, 349 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
A biography set against the backdrop of Depression-era America traces the efforts of famed magician Dai Vernon, who wandered the backroads and shady underworld of the Midwest in search of a mysterious, legendary cardsharp.
General Note:
Includes index.
Perfect -- Cards on the Tracks -- Pleasant Hill -- With It -- Midnight -- Single-o -- Best I've Met in Years -- Dice Man -- And a Little Child Shall Lead Them -- Gambler's Rose -- One Card.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GV1545.V47 J64 2005 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



A famous magician's journey to find the greatest cardsharp ever evokes the forgotten world of magic where Americans found escape during the Great Depression

It has the nostalgic quality of an old-fashioned fable, but Karl Johnson's The Magician and the Cardsharp is a true story that lovingly re-creates the sparkle of a vanished world. Here, set against the backdrop of America struggling through the Depression, is the world of magic, a realm of stars, sleight of hand, and sin where dreams could be realized-or stolen away.

Following the Crash of '29, Dai Vernon, known by magicians as "the man who fooled Houdini," is tramping down Midwestern backroads, barely making ends meet. While swapping secrets with a Mexican gambler, he hears of a guy he doesn't quite believe is real-a legendary mystery man who deals perfectly from the center of the deck and who locals call the greatest cardsharp of all time. Determined to find the reclusive genius, Vernon sets out on a journey through America's shady, slick, and sinful side-from mob-run Kansas City through railroad towns that looked sleepy only in the daytime. Does he find the sharp?

Well, Karl Johnson did-after years of research into Vernon's colorful quest, research that led him to places he never knew existed. Johnson takes us to the cardsharp's doorstep and shows us how he bestowed on Vernon the greatest secret in magic. The Magician and the Cardsharp is a unique and endlessly entertaining piece of history that reveals the artistry and obsession of a special breed of American showmen.

Author Notes

Karl Johnson, a former editor at the New York Daily News , has written for many major newspapers and periodicals. The Magician and the Cardsharp grew out of an article published in American Heritage magazine. He lives in New York City.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

How does a kid from Ottawa, Ontario, get to Pleasant Hill, Missouri? With a deck of playing cards and an obsession with magic, of course. Johnson's fantastical tale concerns card cheating in general and, in particular, the search by Canadian Dai Vernon (1894-1992) for a legendary card player who dealt perfectly from the center of the deck. Johnson conveys the mores of the gambling world, in which Vernon considered himself primarily an entertainer. Vernon gravitated to New York and knocked about its carnivals, but following the stock market crash in 1929, he ended up in Wichita, Kansas, where he made a living cutting silhouettes but lived for mastering sleight of hand. There in 1932 he heard the center deal had been mastered by somebody in Missouri. One county down the railroad line from Kansas City, Pleasant Hill reflected its name--if you liked vice. Johnson's well-crafted unveiling of the town's character and the identity of the cardsharp inveigles as it entertains, rewarding readers hunting for an unusual topic. --Gilbert Taylor Copyright 2005 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

This engrossing detective story traces the quest of Dai Vernon, nee David Verner (1894-1992), to find the man who perfected the art of dealing from the center of the deck. An accomplished card cheat, sleight-of-hand magician and silhouette portraitist, Vernon was so expert at duplicitous card techniques that he once fooled Houdini with tricks he'd learned as a child from S.W. Erdnase's classic The Expert at the Card Table. Proficient at dealing from the top and bottom of the deck, he was astounded to learn that someone in the Midwest had the ability to win by dealing from the center. Johnson, a former editor at New York's Daily News, details Vernon's long search for Allen Kennedy (1865-1961), a cardsharp who plied his trade with loaded dice and deceitful deck handling. By recounting the shadowy careers of these two men, the author successfully evokes the picturesque world of illegal gambling during the 1920s, '30s and '40s. Johnson vividly conveys how obsessed Vernon was with magic and card tricks, and how much time, energy and practice gamblers put into learning how to cheat at cards. Agent, Fred Morris. (Aug. 10) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

1 Perfectp. 1
2 Cards on the Tracksp. 9
3 Pleasant Hillp. 37
4 With Itp. 61
5 Midnightp. 91
6 Single-op. 115
7 The Best I've Met in Yearsp. 151
8 Dice Manp. 173
9 And a Little Child Shall Lead Themp. 197
10 The Gambler's Rosep. 225
11 One Cardp. 253
Notesp. 283
Bibliographyp. 323
Acknowledgmentsp. 331
Indexp. 339