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

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
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's review
Sep 07, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: nonfiction, 2011
Read from July 25 to September 05, 2011

I was really excited to start listening to “Moonwalking with Einstein,” by journalist Joshua Foer, because I typically find books about memory pretty intriguing. A few years back, Foer covered an article on the U.S. memory championship, which essentially fueled his personal interest in improving his own memory. Thus, he enlisted the help of an expert “mental athlete” to coach him, and before he knew it his mission transformed to one of competing in (and hopefully winning) the U.S. Memory Championship.

Although Foer writes that the book is not a self help book, I think such a format would have been immensely more interesting. Of course then Foer would have had to find a skill to teach that is actually in the slightest bit USEFUL to others. I’m not saying that improving one’s memory is not a noble goal – but the methods utilized by memory champs would never actually be useful in real life, with perhaps the exception of the memory palace. What is a memory palace, you ask? It is a place in your mind where an individual is able to store bizarre images to help remember items (oftentimes lists). However, I still think that writing a grocery list on a piece of paper is vastly more efficient than spending a lot more time coming up with and inserting images representing the food you need to purchase into the palace. The entire time I was reading, I couldn’t help thinking that the years and years these individuals spend training to accomplish such a non-useful feat is basically a waste of time and talent which could be poured into the pursuit of a skill that can actually benefit oneself or others. I mean, do these mental athletes not have jobs? Do they contribute to society AT ALL? For the most part it sounds like they sit secluded in their parents’ basements for hours on end staring at decks of cards.

The only chapter of any interest in this entire book written about “S,” the mnemonist which Alfred Luria’s book, “Mind of a Mnemonist” is written (Although “Mind of a Mnemonist” happens to be one of my favorite books – and Foer’s account did not do it justice). “S” has synesthesia, which is a blending of the senses which largely contributes to S’s seemingly endless memory. For those of you who have never heard of synesthesia, it is in my personal opinion one of the coolest phenomena ever – although I’m sure I would be less with thrilled if I had to personally live with it. Two other good books on the subject are “The Man Who Tasted Shapes” by Richard Cytowic and “Born on a Blue Day” by Daniel Tammet the latter of which adds Autism into the mix).

If you are looking for a book that helps you improve your memory via useful and practical suggestions, “Moonwalking with Einstein” is not for you. If you are looking for an inspiring story about the limits of the human mind, this book is not for you. For all those even thinking about picking this book up, do yourself a favor and skip Foer’s frequently pretentious-sounding nonsense and read Luria’s, Cytowic’s or Tammet’s instead!

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