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

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
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's review
Aug 02, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: nonfiction
Read from July 30 to August 02, 2012 — I own a copy

I just realized that my last three books had to do with memory: Remembrance of Things Past, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Moonwalking with Einstein (MwE). It was certainly not intentional and the Proust was not really about memory per se, only the title suggests that. But MwE is all about memory.

If you are looking for a self-help book on improving your memory, you might wish to look elsewhere, perhaps something by Tony Buzan who is a very important character in MwE. This is not to suggest that the author does not elucidate many of the techniques used by MAs or Mental Athletes as the memory champions of the world are called. One might think that the individuals who compete at the national and international memory competitions are mentally-gifted or Savants. Not so. In fact, by definition, Savantism, as described in the literature, is that rare condition that, among other aspects of the syndrome, has as a commonality among its holders a prodigious memory that while very deep, is also exceedingly narrow. MAs on the other hand have memories that can, to name only a few, manage and regurgitate ordered lists of hundreds of random numbers, orders of multiple, shuffled decks of cards, poetry never before seen and all in a matter of a few short minutes. While these are but a few examples of the feats these athletes are capable of performing, there really are no limits to the subject materials they are capable of memorizing. And, as in the case of other forms of athletics, these require a similar kind and degree of training and conditioning.

In my studies as an educator, we learned theories about the kinds of student learning that takes place within us and particularly two and the one of which most of us have a particular proclivity for. We, for example, were taught that there are visual- and there are auditory-learners. I did not totally buy into that division and later on came to believe that even auditory learners, upon ‘hearing” the words, translate them into pictures, “seeing” them within their brains and therefore making us all pretty much visual. This is the premise upon which the techniques employed by MAs such as The Memory Palace derive their inspiration. Much to its credit, this is not only a book about the personal stories of some of the most important contemporary memory champs alive today, it is also about how they accomplish their stunning and almost magical feats of mental acumen.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is that its author. 20-something and fledgling author, Joshua Foer, in the process of writing a piece for Discovery Magazine on the U.S. Memory Championships, is convinced to train himself for the competition. He, with no particularly high IQ or Savantist syndrome whatever, does just that and goes on to win. While it gives hope for us mortals on the one hand, the book goes on to describe the incredibly intense training that goes into accomplishing such a feat.

Writing for Discovery, this is not a schlock, tabloid-like look at the subject of memory. Much of what is outlined is taken from cutting-edge research in the fields of psychology and neuroscience. I felt that the book was very well written, easy to understand, edifying and enjoyable. I think that I came to better understand and appreciate how much memory actually defines just who we are... and not necessarily who we are to others, but who we are to ourselves. The book was very well narrated and was everything a book should be and I give it five stars all the way around.
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