Herb Zarrow has spent a lifetime of magic -- exploring and creating in the art he loves. Best known, of course, for his legendary Zarrow Shuffle, one of the great, thundering moves and perhaps the only sleight to travel from the card trick to the card table. Herb is also the originator of many other sleights, subterfuges, and routines -- with playing cards, coins, handkerchiefs, ropes, and rubber bands -- many of which resulted from his long association with the greats of magic, men like Vernon, Miller, Carlyle, Balducci, Walton, Diaconis, and others.
For some six decades, Herb has kept the bulk of these secrets within a small, select circle. With this book, you can now join that circle.
Zarrow: A Lifetime of Magic is a cornucopia containing over one hundred and fifty of Herb's most cherished secrets, sleights and routines, most of which appear here in print for the first time. The book, a distillation of one humble man's journey to the essence of his art, is destined to join a short list of true classics of magic.
Written with great detail by David Ben, with more than a thousand photographs by Julie Eng, the book also includes loving commentary by Johnny Thompson, Marla Zarrow, Ron Wohl, John Mintz, and Persi Diaconis.
A lifetime of family. A lifetime of friends. A lifetime of art. A lifetime of magic.
First edition published by Meir Yedid Magic in November, 2008. Written by David Ben. A 480-page, oversized 9.25"x 12.25" hardcover with dustjacket.
When it came, I opened it up and immediately flipped to the back to learn the “proper” way to do the Zarrow Shuffle. It was (and is) a damn good description—it covers all the bases, all the finesses, all the timing. I wasn’t particularly good at it—kind of butchering it as I went, but it was the thing I was most interested in. So, I learned it practiced it, and then proceeded to learn a much better version (not Gary Plantz's) and subsequently shelved the book after skimming through the rest of the contents.
I picked it up again some months later simply because I had forgotten about it and I stated going through it, working through the routines. And I was struck by this thought: “This book is crap.”
Anytime I hear something like “Herb Zarrow was one of the modern masters” I can’t help but call bullsh*t. His effects are decidedly a step backwards—the reason so many of them were unpublished is because they are not good tricks. They’re like something a teenager who knows a lot of moves would throw together and call an original effect—there is apparently little thought given to construction, they are tepid, uninspired… I could go on.
But hows about an example? Take the trick entitled “Three Cards Across” and can be found on page 221. First, the deck is spread face up and three cards are selected and reversed in the upper half. Next the deck is separated into two sections. Now the face down selections magically converge and travel to the bottom of the packet (all at the same time!). Then they disappear (holy sh*t!) and reappear in the tabled lower half of the face up deck. It might also be worth mentioning that there is a top-card cover pass and two half passes in there. This is not a good trick. This is not just a not-good trick—this is a bad trick. This trick has too many moves for too little payoff. This trick is not subtle. This trick makes no sense. This trick is boring. This trick feels like it was constructed by some kid who just learned a top-card cover pass and a half pass.
Now nothing against Herb Zarrow personally—I never met the guy, but this is not praiseworthy magic. It also doesn’t help that most of writing in the book whines about how nobody ever appreciated Zarrow and nobody ever credited him when they stole his ideas. And then there’s the end of the book which is effectively a bunch of crap being flung at Ed Marlo for being a bad evil magician who doesn’t want anyone to have ideas of their own and just wants to take credit for everything. I’m sure that David Ben is a good historian and researcher and all that jazzy sh*t, but this really just read like a hissy-fit.
Persi Diaconis said something to the effect of the Zarrow Shuffle being the single most influential card sleight of the 20th century. I’m gonna call bullsh*t on that one also and agree with Jon Racherbaumer in his assessment that it’s the double lift*—nothing has affected card magic more (for better or worse) in the past 100 years. So what if the Zarrow shuffle was one of the few sleights to go from the magic world to the gambling world? It's imprint is relatively minor in the greater canon of sleight-of-hand with cards.
So the bottom line? “Zarrow: a Lifetime of Magic” has a really good description of the Zarrow Shuffle in the last chapter. If that’s worth 125 bucks to you, then f*ckin’ go for it, man.
But if you want to do yourself a favor, buy anything else by Edward Marlo, who truly knew what he was talking about when it came to cards, and magic in general.
*And yes, I know the double lift was invented prior to the 20th century.
If you are looking to do "youtube" style magic (you know what I mean, the kind of tricks that are visually nice but only from 1 camera angle and require unmanageable set-up time) then you can look somewhere else. The magic in this book is old-school in both its simplicity and its execution. The plots are unique and the level of skill required range from easy to hard.
Get this book.