Moonwalking with Einstein

How’s your memory?  Remembering where you put those keys, or the plot of the last novel you read would be nice, but, if you are like most people, some things you would rather forget. In Moonwalking with Einstein, Joshua Foer, a science journalist,  becomes obsessed with improving his own memory so that he can compete in the U.S. Memory Championship.

Foer is entertaining and informative as he provides historical background for memory training from the Greeks to Mark Twain.   The cases he cites to demonstrate the experimental studies on the subject are easy to follow and sometimes humorous, and  Foer always includes psychological principles for authenticity.  As he interviews two famous “savants,” he concludes that one is real and the other is actually just an intelligent person who has used memory techniques to focus on details – something anyone could achieve – but few try.

To be competitive with other memory champions, Foer learns to memorize with “memory palaces” and the PAO system.   Think wild mnemonic devices (Einstein dancing like Michael Jackson; Dom deLuise hula hooping), and recognizing patterns, but, more importantly, undivided attention and persistence.  As Foer practices his memory retention skills, he asks you to replicate the experience.  This can be fun, and it works.

“Try imagining a bottle of pickled garlic at the foot of your own driveway…”

In the last exciting chapter, you are at the championship match.  Foer wins a round of speed cards in which he memorizes and replicates the order of a deck of cards in under two minutes; he survives several more tests of memory and makes it to the finals of the U.S. Memory Championship – memorizing two decks of cards.  He wins, but his biggest challenge is to pass the entrance test for KL7, the international secret memory fraternity – drink two beers, memorize 49 digits, and kiss three women in five minutes.

Memorizing often has little to do with understanding.  Remember all those babies who were taught to sound out C-A-T, but never connected it to the animal? Foer concludes that

“How we perceive the world and how we act in it are products of how and what we remember.”

Moonwalking with Einstein might have you seeing the world differently. You may learn how to memorize a poem, and even pick up some visuals you can use to help you remember where you parked the car.  Foer’s advice:

Remembering can only happen if you decide to take notice.”

2 thoughts on “Moonwalking with Einstein

  1. I love science books. I saw this mentioned somewhere else the other day – your review makes me certain to put it on my list!

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