Ricky Jay is awesome. He's my absolute favorite magician of all time and I got to see him live many, many years ago in New York City. Most people recognize him as an actor now as he has spun his knowledge of magic and his connections with David Mamet into a pretty solid acting career.
One of the things that makes Jay awesome is his knowledge of the history of magic and entertainment. He used to be the curator of a magic library in Los Angeles and his own personal collection is supposed to be pretty impressive.
This book comes from a radio program Jay did in L.A. Once a week he would do a little radio bit on some historic entertainment from the past. When I say past I mean 17th and 18th centuries. And when I say entertainment I mean dwarves, con-men, musicians, and entertainments most people would not even begin to think exist.
Sadly, because each story comes from a radio bit, the writeups of each character are a page in length with an accompanying photo. Worse, because of the eras in which these performers strutted their stuff, there's not a whole lot of other material to learn more about these folks. The only book cited that interested me and might be remotely obtainable is a book from the 1930's on forging poultry to win poultry exhibitions. As much as I love reading about art forgery and theft, I thought reading about poultry forgery would be pretty interesting. I can't get it through Interlibrary Loan, though, and I don't feel like shelling out thirty to forty bucks for it. Alas.
If you've never watched Jay perform, do a search for him on YouTube and watch his skills in action.