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Review: Moonwalking with Einstein, Joshua Foer

moonwalking with einsteinIn Moonwalking with Einstein, Joshua Foer digs deep into the concept of memorisation and how our lack of it as a society has affected us. He goes so far as to compete in a memory championships, sharing his tips along the way, as we learn just what it takes to be a memory professional. He doesn’t memorise just the shopping list or the US Presidents; he memorises poems, playing cards, and people, with easy tips for us to learn how to memorise as well.

I have a memory that is simultaneously atrocious and very efficient, so I was incredibly curious about recognised memory techniques. Foer mainly describes the memory palace idea that I’d seen used previously, although I can’t remember where. It’s surprisingly effective; I managed to do his little exercise and actually found it very successful, to the point where I can still remember it a few weeks later. There are a couple of other hints and tricks throughout as he goes through the process of learning to be a memory champion.

That wasn’t the most interesting part for me, though, as I was much more interested in the history of memory and his investigation into the top minds in the world, including those with mental illnesses whose memories are somehow naturally more effective than the rest of us. He goes in two directions with the latter, interviewing a man who has no memory and a man who has unnatural memory abilities. It’s absolutely fascinating to see how the mind is affected at different stages of memory recall. Foer also talks to memory professionals – people who help you remember – and gets a wide range of perspectives on the subject. All of it was quite interesting.

I’m sure it helped that I am firmly in Foer’s camp in that I believe memory is very important. I am partially blessed with a good memory; I can stick things in my memory with relative ease when I try, and sometimes I find random dates and facts stuck in my head without real effort (my new mobile number popped into my head one day and hasn’t left yet!). But if I’m not paying attention, I forget very easily, and I’ve never been good at using memory devices to remember things like the planets. I usually just remember the sentence and forget which planet is which word!

But I do believe memory is important, largely for the reasons Foer mentions; we need to have a lodestone to attach future knowledge on. As a practical example, I know a lot more history than the average person who has never really cared for it, like my husband. When we go to a museum, I love it partly because I can usually relate what I’m seeing to the store of memory in my head (partly because I love history). He loses interest pretty quickly and forgets what he’s seen because nothing has meaning to him, but when he sees something he can relate to, he’s much more interested. We need to have some firm grounding of facts in our heads to relate to the world around us – this is why a lot of older literature is harder to read, because we’ve lost the intimate knowledge of things like classical literature and the Bible to attach allusions to.

Although I enjoyed parts of this book more than others, I would still highly recommend it to anyone who is at all interested in memory, whether you’d like to remember better or are simply curious about the history of memorisation.

All book links to external sites are affiliate links. I received this book for free from Amazon Vine.

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7 comments to Review: Moonwalking with Einstein, Joshua Foer

  • Wow, this is REALLY neat. I’m in your camp with the history. I’m a connector at heart and for that I need a great long and short term memory. I tend to remember really random things about people and places which makes me a good people-connector and an obsessive historian and scientist. My husband both appreciates it and hates it because I rarely forget something strange or quirky about long ago happenings that others would prefer to have forgotten. oops! This sounds like a great read since I’m in the same camp and you loved it. NOw if I could just remember where my keys went…
    Pam (@iwriteinbooks)´s last post …That’s it! I quit reading

  • I don’t have a good memory — especially with books. This is an asset to me and a skill I’ve actually honed. Must clear my head of one manuscript before I can edit the next. Unfortunately, that makes it difficult for me to discuss books; I’m always scrambling to remember the details.
    Beth F´s last post …BEA- Hot Book Club Titles Panel

  • I have a pretty good memory compared to most other people that I know and would love to read this book to try to develop that a little further. I also think that the bits about people with extraordinary memories sounds rather interesting. I am glad to hear that you enjoyed this one so much, and I am looking forward to trying it for myself!
    zibilee´s last post …The Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Schaffert — 272 pgs

  • Carl must have a memory like yours. He can remember the number of a project he worked on years ago but not the name of someone he met yesterday. I think he needs to read this book.

  • I saw this guy on The Colbert Report, I think. It was a really great interview, and the memory championships sound CRAZY.

    I’ve always had a good memory when it comes to words, but numbers? No way.

  • Funny, I’m the same way with my memory – I remember the strangest details, but can’t remember larger things. My husband will refer to something that happened during the first year of our relationship and I’ll just look at him blankly because I don’t remember! I’ve got this one on audio and I hope to get to it soon.
    S. Krishna´s last post …Book Review- Swept Off Her Feet – Hester Browne

  • Amy

    Great review of the book. I’m with you in agreeing with him that memory is important and for that reason would definitely recommend the book. I really should try the memory palace idea myself one of these days…
    Amy´s last post …Short Story Saturdays- Stories from Europe 2