Nancy O'Toole'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 17, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: nonfiction, library
Read on June 17, 2011

While covering the U.S. Memory Championship, journalist Joshua Foer witnessed many seemingly impossible feats: individuals who could memorize three hundred random words in fifteen minutes, a page of a thousand random digits in five, and the order of a deck of playing cards in just a few minutes. When he asked one of the participants, Ed Cooke, when he realized that he was a savant, Ed only laughed and told him that his memory was actually quite average. Anyone could do the things he could if they put in the time and effort, including Foer. Foer, a man who regularly forgets where he places his keys, suddenly finds himself pulled into the strange world of “metal athletes,” where he himself will train to participate in the following year's U.S. Memory Championship, with surprising results.

Memory has always fascinated me, because I've always struggled with mine. Any school subject that depended on memorization (whether it was spelling, times tables, french vocabulary, or mathematical formulas) quickly became the bane of my existence. Nothing would fill me with more woe that classes that depended on tests and pop quizzes over research papers and projects. People like Ed Cooke (or even classmates that did better than me on those French vocabulary quizzes) would fill me with envy and fascination. How could they do it? What was I missing? One of the best parts about Moonwalking with Einstein is it does explain how reasonably intelligent people can improve their memory, and perform impressive memory feats. Although not all of these tests are piratical for every day use, I have done some myself and have been impressed with the result.

But Moonwalking with Einstein is not a self help book filled with tricks for memory improvement. It is also a study on the concept of memory, and how it has been impacted through history by outside forces, like the written word, and how the general population has changed their mind about memory throughout history. Foer also researches what we consider exceptional memories throughout history and today, as well as people who struggle with their memories (one of the most interesting parts of the book is a chapter where Foer visits a man who cannot recall any thought older than a few minutes). This is all tied together by Foer's own story of preparing for the U.S. Memory Championship.

I normally don't read a lot of nonfiction, but every now and then one will grab me, and Moonwalking with Einstein really grabbed me. Foer writes with both intelligence and a sense of humor, with makes the book intensely readable. I often found myself staying up past my bedtime without even realizing I was doing it. The chapter where he competes in the Memory Championship is surprisingly suspenseful. The topic covered here is fascinating, and I really felt as if I came out of this novel, having learned quite a lot. I would highly recommend Moonwalking with Einstein to anyone with interesting on the subject of memory.

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Quotes Nancy Liked

Joshua Foer
“Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next - and disappear. That's why it's so important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.”
Joshua Foer, Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

Reading Progress

06/17/2011 page 137
43.0% "Picked this up a few days ago on a whim. So far, pretty fascinating stuff."
06/17/2011 page 320
100.0% "Yikes. Did I just stay up past bedtime reading a non-fiction book? Now that hasn't happened in years. Review coming soon. Not looking forward to waking up to work tomorrow."

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