June 1st, 2012


Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, by Joshua Foer

The history of memory and how the invention of writing began to change our brains.

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything View a preview of this book online Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

The Penguin Press, 2011, 307 pages

Foer's unlikely journey from chronically forgetful science journalist to U.S. Memory Champion frames a revelatory exploration of the vast, hidden impact of memory on every aspect of our lives.

On average, people squander 40 days annually compensating for things they've forgotten. Joshua Foer used to be one of those people. But after a year of memory training, he found himself in the finals of the U.S. Memory Championship. Even more important, Foer found a vital truth we too often forget: In every way that matters, we are the sum of our memories.

Moonwalking with Einstein draws on cutting-edge research, a surprising cultural history of memory, and venerable tricks of the mentalist's trade to transform our understanding of human remembering. Under the tutelage of top "mental athletes", he learns ancient techniques once employed by Cicero to memorize his speeches and by Medieval scholars to memorize entire books. Using methods that have been largely forgotten, Foer discovers that we can all dramatically improve our memories.

Immersing himself obsessively in a quirky subculture of competitive memorizers, Foer learns to apply techniques that call on imagination as much as determination - showing that memorization can be anything but rote. From the PAO system, which converts numbers into lurid images, to the memory palace, in which memories are stored in the rooms of imaginary structures, Foer's experience shows that the World Memory Championships are less a test of memory than of perseverance and creativity.

At a time when electronic devices have all but rendered our individual memories obsolete, Foer's bid to resurrect the forgotten art of remembering becomes an urgent quest. Moonwalking with Einstein brings Joshua Foer to the apex of the U.S. Memory Championship and readers to a profound appreciation of a gift we all possess but that too often slips our minds.

Collapse )

Verdict: This was an utterly fascinating book. I genuinely learned a lot of interesting and useful things from it, and for a green journalist writing about brain science (something that would normally kick my skepticism meter up to eleventy), Joshua Foer does a great job of sticking mostly to what is known and yet uncovering a lot of stuff you probably didn't know. A great book for anyone who thinks they have a bad memory, who reads a lot, or who is interested in how the brain stores information.

My complete list of book reviews.