Hypnotism has been a source of fascination since the Victorian era, when it was simultaneously taken up by sensationalist performers and respected members of the medical establishment. In the hundred years since, it has remained alluring and mysterious—while also being subjected to powerful scientific skepticism.
This beautifully illustrated book is the first major popular history of hypnotism, exploring its many guises, from pseudoscience and showmanship to serious inquiry into the practice and its effects on the conscious and unconscious mind. Christopher Green—an accredited hypnotherapist and performer—delves into the questions that have long accompanied hypnosis, asking just what it is that we are looking for from this surrender of control, and what it means that we’re willing to allow someone else to attempt to alter our behavior through such mysterious means.
Accessible and engaging, and full of illustrations from throughout the history of hypnotism, Overpowered! will charm, entertain, and educate anyone interested in the science or showmanship of hypnosis. When you hear the sound of our fingers snapping, you will go to the nearest bookstore and place an order.
I loved the premise of this book right from the start. I mean, the cover alone is great, and flipping through it, there are some wonderful images of men with great mustaches in turbans doing all manner of hypnosis to people. What I didn’t expect (but probably should have if I’d read his bio on the back) is that Green himself is a practicing hypnotherapist (in addition to being an actor and performer who has created such characters as “US Country music star Tina C and pensioner rap star Ida Barr.”
It turns out that Green has been interested in hypnosis for a long time. He learned how to do it and then wanted to set the record straight for what hypnosis actually is as opposed to what we believe it is.
So this proves to be a thorough (and very funny) history of hypnosis through the years. He says the book is called “Overpowered” because “I’m fascinated by the delight human beings derive from the idea of being taken over. Being conscious may be beneficial, but it is also hard work.”
The book is chockablock with outstanding illustrations of people in hypnotic states and of old posters advertising upcoming shows–some are truly spectacular.
He begins the history in the 1770s with Franz Mesmer. Then there was Abbé Faria, a Catholic priest who demonstrated animal magnetism and commanded entire audiences to SLEEP.
Some important names in the history of hypnotism include James Braid, (a physician and surgeon in addition to being a mesmerist). And in the 19th century we get hypnotism on the stage like Kennedy the Mesmerist the master showman. Green shows us a pamphlet by Dr. Vint, a shoddy piece of work that looks much better in his glossy book. Dr. Vint sold The Electric Pad of Life. Green notes, “There is no clue as to what the ‘Electric Pad of Life’ is But doesn’t it sound like something you would want–even need?”
There’s lots of pictures of people stiff as a board supported by their head and ankles only. (With people standing on them or not).
Perhaps the best stage presence comes from Karlyn–it is Karlyn’s picture that graces cover
Karlyn the epitome of the showman from … the sheer girth of his collar … from the swagger of that stare to the thrusting bravado of the best mustache in the business.
Then he looks at the stars of stage in a chapter called “Sequins and Spandex.” Like Handy-Bandy and Nadia who wore a lovely turban, and Walford Bodie who promised Electric Life Pills. And then there The Amazing Kreskin (who is still alive). There’s also the still alive Anatoly Kashpirovsky who appears to have hypnotized multiple people at once.
Then he gives the stink eye to media representations of hypnotists. From film to TV to books, if there’s a hypnotist, he is always bad and always out to do harm, usually to a defenseless woman. This mostly started with George du Maurier’s Trilby, which brought us the character of Svengali. Even Woody Allen used hypnotists for nefarious purposes in a couple if his movies.
He has a brief (sadly all too brief) chapter on women and hypnosis. There just haven’t been that many professional women hypnotists. Even today, it’s a small subset. Joan Brandon appears to have been the most powerful and public hypnotist the 1950s
He’s got a very funny chapter on self-hypnosis items (and promises his next book is going to be about the strange patents in the patent office. There are the simple ones made overly complicated for patent reasons: ‘a bright spherical or globular or other shaped object attached to the end of either a stiff-curved or soft flexible wire rod…’ in other words it’s a ball on a string. And then there’s the full room devoted to the practice (with diagram).
And that’s where he explains that self-hypnosis is very easy. You don’t need all that stuff, you don’t even need an MP3 like he did. He provides a very helpful script for inducing self-hypnosis that he recommends reciting into a tape and then listening to.
While he enjoys the showmanship of hypnotism, he also knows of its benefits. You can’t make someone do something against their will–but you can achieve peace and relaxation and even to conquer fears or problems.
Interspersed with the history is Green’s own story (with pictures). He said that he downloaded an MP3 of self hypnotism became of his bird phobia. The MP3 worked wonders and so he took it further and went for a course in hypnosis. Three years later he was a fully qualified hypnotherapist. And his final words on this section sum up nicely. “So while I might joke and be flippant about all this stuff, I really do think it’s powerful–because it’s not about what somebody can do to you, it’s about what you can do for yourself.”
This book went from goofy lark about funny guys with big mustaches to an actually useful book about hypnotism. I do like a book that is both really funny and unexpectedly practical.