Presto! by Penn Jillette

This is a chapter by chapter summary of the book "Presto! How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales" by Penn Jillette.

I'm writing this summary as a reference for myself and only focusing on the health and weight loss portions. This book is full of great stories that anyone interested in Penn Jillette will enjoy, but there's a lot I don't touch on in my summary.

My summaries and commentary are notes that I'm taking for myself and not advice on what you should do. Talk to your doctor before doing anything that could have an impact on your health.

I'm writing the summary in a first-person voice to make it easier for me, but these are my summaries and not necessarily Penn's words. If you're reading this, you should assume I got everything wrong and just read the book for yourself.


This book is about what I did, and not about what you should do. Before making any changes to your diet, exercise routine, or health, talk to your doctor. Be careful. Take care of yourself, and don't trust the word of a juggler.

Introduction: How Are You Going To Die?

I will die, like many Americans, as a result of spending most of my life being fat. Some of the magic we do onstage looks very dangerous, but is actually very safe, which is something I brag about. But while I have been bragging about how careful we are and how much we love life, I was closer to stroking out onstage from being fat than from any injury associated with our act.

Statistically speaking, I will still die of some sort of heart thing. I was fat for a long time. It seems like age 59 is too late to repent, but all the charts show that I have increased my life expectancy at least a bit by losing over a hundred pounds and eating better. Three months before my 60th birthday, I radically changed the way I ate. With the help of Ray Cronise I lost over 100 pounds.

Section 1 - Just Another Fat [Person]

TL;DR: Penn was obese, ate poorly, and was hospitalized for high blood pressure and a 90% heart blockage. Scheduled for stomach sleeve surgery to reduce his weight, he decided to attempt to lose the weight without surgery, and with the help of scientist Ray Cronise.

I was fat, depressed and tired all the time. I couldn't walk up a flight of stairs without panting. I ate big steaks, bread and butter, buttered popcorn, candy, grilled cheese, grilled cheese with bacon, pizza, dozens of raspberry-filled Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and Krispy Kreme doughnuts with bacon. I didn't weigh myself often, but I was probably 330 pounds.

My doctor had me on massive doses of six different blood pressure drugs because my hypertension was so bad. He told me to lose weight, and I knew he was right, but I didn't see my fat as a problem. I was happy, except for the constant depresion and being winded just thinking about running to play with my children.

Even on every drug known to man, my blood pressure had me on the edge of a stroke. I had to see my cardiologist to find out whether there was something that could explain the high blood presure. We pretended to look for something that was causing the hypertension while ignoring the fact that I was obese. It's easy to lie to yourself.

The doctor performed a cardiac catheterization and found a 90% blockage in my heart. It was really dangerous. He put in a stent and opened up the blockage. Getting rid of the blockage didn't help my blood pressure. They couldn't get the top number below 220. They kept me in the hospital for a few days. The people who loved me were scared, but I didn't care. It just didn't seem like a big deal until the doctor walked in and told me he'd discovered the problem. I was one-third the size of a cow.

The doctor prescribed a gastric sleeve, which would make it impossible for me to eat like a pig. I understood for the first time that I was a fat person. I was medically obese, and that's the reason I was in the hospital. The doctor's stomach sleeve prescription gave me what I needed. It gave me the power to go crazy.

I was a regular obese American on a regular American diet. As far from crazy as possible. Doing everything like everybody else didn't work. I was obese just like everyone else. I had high blood pressure and was on my way to diabetes like everyone else. But that didn't mean I had to die exactly like everyone else. I went on a half-assed diet and stopped eating sugar, white flour, white rice, pasta, potatoes and red meat. I started taking long bike rides. I started weighing myself at 313 and was down to 304 in five weeks. But I still had my blank check for crazy.

About a month later, my friend Ray Cronise was backstage after the Penn & Teller show, talking about health and nutrition. I wrote to him later and started talking to him about the diet he'd been talking about. He said he had a program that he'd take me through. He asked for ninety day and said I'd lose a lot of weight and probably be able to get off my blood pressure medicines. I signed up.

Section 2 - Losing it! 74.5 Pounds in 83 Days