The Thought Reader Craze: Victorian Science at the Enchanted Boundary


“The book is required reading for any self-styled skeptic who wants to understand how tricksters and con men manage to be elevated as prophets and saints, be it millennia ago or on today’s morning talk show.”

– Jamy Ian Swiss
Genii, the Conjurors Magazine

“The book is a skeptical performance, written in the language of debunking, which nevertheless allows one chink of the possibility of a fugitive supernatural experience. Wiley is thus as much a part of a long tradition of ‘secular magic’ as its valuable historian.”
– Roger Luckhurst
Journal of the Society for Psychical Research

“The exploits and stunts that characterized those crazy years … are well told by Barry Wiley who is also an Associate of the exclusive Inner Magic Circle of London. The Thought Reader Craze reads like a thrilling adventure story.”
– Massimo Polidoro
Skeptical Inquirer

Beginning in 1870 the hunger for scientific discovery in Great Britain drove prominent scientists, philosophers and others to promote the legitimacy of telepathy as a proven fact of human nature – and to, perhaps, provide the first scientific proof of life after death. At the same time, mind reading as a form of entertainment increased in popularity as persuasive performers as J. Randall Brown, Washington Irving Bishop and Stuart Cumberland convinced reporters and the public that they truly could read the minds of strangers. The widely publicized, sometimes bizarre interactions between scientists and these performers ushered in the Thought Reader Craze which lasted until 1910.

The book also explores the parallel stories of the men, woman, and, occasionally, children and the methods they used to hoax the scientists who so carefully studied them under what the scientists insisted were stringent scientific conditions. It was a time when scientists made and lost reputations while the thought readers, with one exception, made and lost fortunes. A thought reader could make the equivalent of 2-3 years of income for a skilled workman in less than ninety minutes! The Thought Reader Craze is the swashbuckling story of a unique cultural phenomenon.

Available in both print and ebook editions on Amazon.