Branden Collingsworth's Reviews > Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
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's review
Jun 05, 11

really liked it

I’ve always been interested in memory. Growing up as all of the world’s information became available to anyone with an intent connection, I’ve seen my own memory as a serious limitation to what I could accomplish. Imagine if I could only digest and retain all of this information. Consequently, I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of time reading about memory. Moonwalking with Einstein was published about the time that I finished another book called “Your Memory: How it Works and How to Improve It.” Moonwalking is far more entertaining; however, much less practical.

Moonwalking is an easy and entertaining distillation of much of what there is to know about memory, at least of what most people care to know. After three years of law school, three years of letting my Economist subscription lapse, I forgot how pleasing a journalist’s writing style can be. Josh Foer, Moonwalking’s author, switches his writing between the humorous and light –accounts of getting drunk and picking up women with people who compete in memory contests (“Mental Athletes”)– with the deep and philosophical – existential questions inspired by conversations with an amnesiac. The thread running through the books, upon which he hangs the history, science, and philosophy of human memory and human attempts to improve our memory, is his own attempt to compete in the U.S Memory Championship. In addition to explaining how he, a regular person with relatively average mental faculties, can learned to use memory in amazing ways, Moonwalking paints vivid pictures of some of the very interesting characters: the Russian memory savant, known to the world as “S”, who literally could remember everything; the lifelogging Gorden Bell, who relegates remembering to a computer he wears around his neck; the advocates of memory improvement including Cicero, 19th century hucksters, and the contemporary guru of memory Tony Buzan; the real Rain Man and a fake savant.

However, the most interesting parts of the book explain how Foer implemented the memory techniques I had previously read about. He took only one year to master these techniques well enough to win the U.S. Memory Championship and set the record for time to memorize a shuffled deck of cards. He trained diligently – before he began training the Mental Athletes told him it would take about one hour a day, six days a week, to be a competitor in the U.S. (he does not report the actual time he spent training). However, the techniques he used are not beyond the reach of the average person. In fact, Foer submitted to a battery of psychometric test before he started his training, which showed that he had an average memory. It’s encouraging to know that memory can do amazing things when used in the right way.

After reading this book, I can’t help but feel cheated by a 20-year education that did not give me even the slightest hint that these two thousand year old techniques existed. How much easier would high school, college, and law school have been had I taken a semester to learn them? Educational reform abandoned memorization as a central part of the curriculum long before I was born. But, as one of the characters in Moonwalking suggests, it is not memorization that’s wrong, it’s the way we go about it.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Mark (new)

Mark I read an article in NYT by this guy about his memory techniques. Cool stuff.

message 2: by Paul (new)

Paul Donahue If you have time for brief summary of these techniques (or a link to a summary or the NYT article) I'd be interested in reading it.

message 3: by Mark (new)

Mark Paul wrote: "If you have time for brief summary of these techniques (or a link to a summary or the NYT article) I'd be interested in reading it."

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