Foer's unlikely journey from chronically forgetful science journalist to U.S. Memory Champion frames a revelatory exploration of the vast, hidden impact of memory on every aspect of our lives.
On average, people squander 40 days annually compensating for things they've forgotten. Joshua Foer used to be one of those people. But after a year of memory training, he found himself in the finals of the U.S. Memory Championship. Even more important, Foer found a vital truth we too often forget: In every way that matters, we are the sum of our memories.
Moonwalking with Einstein draws on cutting-edge research, a surprising cultural history of memory, and venerable tricks of the mentalist's trade to transform our understanding of human remembering. Under the tutelage of top "mental athletes", he learns ancient techniques once employed by Cicero to memorize his speeches and by Medieval scholars to memorize entire books. Using methods that have been largely forgotten, Foer discovers that we can all dramatically improve our memories.
Immersing himself obsessively in a quirky subculture of competitive memorizers, Foer learns to apply techniques that call on imagination as much as determination - showing that memorization can be anything but rote. From the PAO system, which converts numbers into lurid images, to the memory palace, in which memories are stored in the rooms of imaginary structures, Foer's experience shows that the World Memory Championships are less a test of memory than of perseverance and creativity.
At a time when electronic devices have all but rendered our individual memories obsolete, Foer's bid to resurrect the forgotten art of remembering becomes an urgent quest. Moonwalking with Einstein brings Joshua Foer to the apex of the U.S. Memory Championship and readers to a profound appreciation of a gift we all possess but that too often slips our minds.
Your body may be a temple, but your mind, memory experts say, is a palace, or should be, to master remembering. The Memory Palace is one of the notions that Joshua Foer explores in Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, his entertaining and enlightening account of competing in the U.S. Memory Championships.
Narrated by Mike Chamberlain, who genuinely conveys the author’s nerdy and playful persona, Moonwalking began in 2005 when Foer, a 20-something fledging journalist living in his parents’ basement, covered the New York-based championships and met Ed Cooke, a memory Grand Master and delightfully eccentric brainiac. Cooke convinced Foer to become a contender in the contest, becoming his guru and guide over his year of training. In addition, Foer broadened his training by meeting with memory experts and athletes like Cooke’s European colleagues, who, Foer says, make their American counterparts seem like Jamaican bobsledders in the Olympics. While Chamberlain’s curiously random use of accents is a minor distraction, his interpretation of the group’s pub games getting and memorizing women’s phone numbers and stealing kisses against the clock is plenty funny.
Foer focuses first on the construction basics of The Memory Palace, a technique derived from the ancient Greek poet Simonides that takes advantage of the mind’s visual and spatial bent. A physical structure, a childhood home say, is selected from memory and filled, room by room, with the numbers, names, concepts, etc., to be memorized. One has to prepare the items previously, however, by charging them with the most vivid, better yet, erotic and bizarre personal associations possible. Using the PAO (Person Action Object) technique, one can also consolidate and compound the associations, thus producing a moonwalking Einstein, not to mention, Foer writes, the “indecent acts my own grandmother had to commit in the service of my remembering the eight of hearts”. It’s a nutty business inside and out, which Chamberlain as Foer conveys drily, none more so than when, working at his desk in anti-distraction earmuffs and goggles, he looks up to find his father staring at him.
While the narrative follows the calendar leading up to the competition, relevant digressions include looks at the clinical and other literature about mnemonists, plus visits with living examples. Tony Bouzon, a memory entrepreneur; ‘savants’ like 'Rainman' Kim Peek and 'pi' reciter Daniel Tammet; and memory researchers are interviewed, which raises issues and controversies related to autism, intelligence, and photographic memory. We also grasp more of the reality of those who suffer from remembering too much or too little. Foer additionally spends time exploring cultural questions of memory and memorizing; once considered a sign of nobility, what will be its fate in our infinite, digitally preserved age?
The idea of actually “moonwalking with Einstein” encapsulates wonder and delight at the boundaries of knowledge; so does Foer’s memorable book. Elly Schull Meeks
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Got the Ball Rolling
Interesting Topic, Great Narrator!