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

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
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's review
Dec 09, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: best1011, non-fiction, read-alouds, bestalltime, bumplibrary
Read in December, 2011

A very interesting book.

Foer visits the American Memory Championships to write an article about it. He is impressed with the prodigious memory feats that he witnesses there, but over and over again the pros assure him that what he is seeing is something that anyone can do with the right techniques and lots of practice. In fact, one British champion tells Foer, that with his (Ed's) coaching and mentoring, that he (Foer) could quite possibly win the American Championship in a year's time. Foer decides to take up the challenge.

The story of Foer's training year (which includes a look at some of the techniques that mnemonists use), culminating with his competition in the American Memory Championship, is just one thread in the book. Foer also profiles some of the (decidely geeky) people in the competitive memory community. He writes about the neurological underpinnings of memory. In one section that I found particularly interesting, he talks about how the relationship between internal memory (pre-writing and pre-printing) when all human knowledge was stored in human brains and external memory (writing, books, printing, sound recording, digital technologies) and how that relationship gradually evolved. He explores that the relationship between memory and education, memory and knowledge, and memory and expertise — all stuff that we found ourselves talking and arguing about as we read the book.

When all is said and done, after one is out school and the exam mill there are not a lot of times in a persons life when the need arises to memorize great chunks of random data, but we have been having a lot of fun trying out some of the memory techniques in the book.

In fact, that points up what is probably the biggest error in the book. Foer repeatedly discounts that fact that people do things just for fun and that doing things because they are fun is valuable in and of itself. He bemoans the fact that his shelves are full of books the contents of which he can't remember — what a waste! Well, I probably won't remember 99% of what we read in MOONWALKING WITH EINSTEIN, but Maggee enjoyed reading it together, talking about it together and with friends and following up on some of the interesting things in it. Good enough for me.

(Note: the following MemoryWalk note was added July 28, 2013)
30. MemoryWalk: I am sitting at the desk in the office (not the computer desk; the other one) and I look up to see — one the shelf above the desk — a tiny perfect Albert Einstein dancing with a tiny perfect Michael Jackson. Surprisingly, Einstein is doing a very creditable version of Jackson's trademark "moonwalk".

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