[Review] Into the Magic Shop - James R. Doty

Title of Book:
Into the Magic Shop
Author: James R. Doty
Publisher: Yellow Kite
Publication Year: 2016
Language: English
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288

The award-winning New York Times bestseller about the extraordinary things that can happen when we harness the power of both the brain and the heart.
Growing up in the high desert of California, Jim Doty was poor, with an alcoholic father and a mother chronically depressed and paralyzed by a stroke. Today he is the director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University, of which the Dalai Lama is a founding benefactor. But back then his life was at a dead end until at twelve he wandered into a magic shop looking for a plastic thumb. Instead he met Ruth, a woman who taught him a series of exercises to ease his own suffering and manifest his greatest desires. Her final mandate was that he keep his heart open and teach these techniques to others. She gave him his first glimpse of the unique relationship between the brain and the heart.
Doty would go on to put Ruth’s practices to work with extraordinary results—power and wealth that he could only imagine as a twelve-year-old, riding his orange Sting-Ray bike. But he neglects Ruth’s most important lesson, to keep his heart open, with disastrous results—until he has the opportunity to make a spectacular charitable contribution that will virtually ruin him. Part memoir, part science, part inspiration, and part practical instruction, Into the Magic Shop shows us how we can fundamentally change our lives by first changing our brains and our hearts.


Into the Magic Shop is a memoir written by James R. Doty about his childhood, learning about mindfulness in a magic shop then applied it throughout his life. This book is divided into three part. The first part focused on Doty’s childhood. He had a tough childhood and one day while browsing randomly in a magic shop he met Ruth, the mother of the shop’s owner and they formed an unlikely friendship. Every day during the summer Doty would come to the shop and Ruth would teach him how to be mindful and to have positive thinking. At the end of every chapter in this part, we’ll see a step-by-step on what Ruth taught him that summer. The steps are concise and he included a link to the website in which readers can access the audio version of each exercise.

The second part of the book chronicles Doty’s life in his younger years. In this part he wrote how the tricks that Ruth taught him had helped him to pursue his dream as a neurosurgeon despite the obstacles. He also wrote about his family for a bit. How he thought his family and their financial problem could probably get in the way of him pursuing his dream. He did have a successful life and become a neurosurgeon. However, as success came to him, he started to stray from what Ruth taught him. He became arrogant because he felt like he could accomplish anything by himself. Until he lost everything. So he tried to reconnect with his hometown and Ruth.

The third one is the part where Doty turned his life around and applied Ruth’s tricks once again, mindfully this time. He emphasized that to truly apply Ruth’s tricks you also need compassion and sometimes what you think you want isn’t necessarily what’s best for you. This part has a more hopeful tone and it ends with such heartwarming chapter on compassion and love.

Considering that Into the Magic Shop is a nonfiction book, I’m going to give my general thoughts and feeling after reading this book. First of all, this book is not the first book about mindfulness that I’ve read. I already know how important it is and I’m aware that it’s been practiced for many years. The problem with books about mindfulness is, it all comes back to the reader itself. True, a book about mindfulness could give the most concise and easy-to-follow instructions, but if you don’t follow it or don’t do the exercise, it wouldn’t change a thing. Reading a book about mindfulness doesn’t make you become more mindful, practicing or doing the exercise does. I don’t do the exercise and it’s on me; and it’s okay. It’s just that since I’ve read books about mindfulness before, this book only stresses out the importance of being mindful to me. Second of all, Doty’s story when he’s a young doctor reminds me a lot of the characters from Grey Anatomy, I don’t know why. I don’t point out a single particular character but reading his years as a doctor then specifically neurosurgeon, I feel like he could fit in the show. Overall, I did enjoy reading this book. In terms of mindfulness and being positive, I don’t think it adds something new to me. Still, his life journey gives a good example of how those two can enhance your life’s quality.

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