Empire of Enchantment

The Story of Indian Magic

John Zubrzycki

A vibrant narrative of India’s magical traditions and their journey across the world.

Bibliographic Details
Empire of Enchantment Hardback
July 2018£25.00
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India’s association with magicians goes back thousands of years. Conjurors and illusionists dazzled the courts of Hindu maharajas and Mughal emperors. As British dominion spread over the subcontinent, such wonder-workers became synonymous with India. Western magicians appropriated Indian attire, tricks and stage names; switching their turbans for top hats, Indian jugglers fought back and earned their grudging respect.

This book tells the extraordinary story of how Indian magic descended from the realm of the gods to become part of daily ritual and popular entertainment across the globe. Recounting tales of levitating Brahmins, resurrections, prophesying monkeys and ‘the most famous trick never performed’, Empire of Enchantment vividly charts Indian magic’s epic journey from street to the stage.


John Zubrzycki has worked in India as a diplomat, consultant, tour guide and correspondent for The Australian. His background is in South Asian history and Hindi, and his doctoral thesis (University of New South Wales) concerns historical links between Indian and Western stage magicians. John’s previous books include The Last Nizam and The Mysterious Mr Jacob.


‘John Zubrzycki has found the most wonderful story- the sort all writers look for and long for- and told it brilliantly. This is- quite literally- a book of marvels.’ — William Dalrymple

‘Exceptionally well-crafted and brilliantly told, “Empire of Enchantment” brings alive the most enchanting tales and traditions from the history of Indian magic, packed with an extraordinary cast featuring emperors and politicians, street performers and thugs. Travelling with Zubryzcki from distant antiquity down to our own, more recent times, what this book offers is a universe of pure, unadulterated delight.’— Shashi Tharoor

‘An amazing, brilliant, and incredibly erudite book. Zubrzycki’s knowledge is dazzling, and his discussions of Indian magicians and their Western imitators or denigrators allow him to tell marvellous stories about animal trainers, snake charmers, not to mention, thieves, Thugs, folk healers, spies,  automatons, and about fascinating characters —Thurston, Sleeman, Sorcar — and many more.’ — Lee Siegel, Professor of Religion, University of Hawaii, and author of Net of Magic: Wonders and Deceptions in India