Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer – Review


Published: March 3, 2011

Publisher: Penguin Press

Genre: Non-Fiction

Pages: 307 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0



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 forty 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.

Foer takes his inquiry well beyond the arena of mental athletes-across the country and deep into his own mind. In San Diego, he meets an affable old man with one of the most severe case of amnesia on record, where he learns that memory is at once more elusive and more reliable than we might think. In Salt Lake City, he swaps secrets with a savant who claims to have memorized more than nine thousand books. At a high school in the South Bronx, he finds a history teacher using twenty- five-hundred-year-old memory techniques to give his students an edge in the state Regents exam.

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.

Ever since watching the very first episode of Sherlock I’ve been fascinated with the thought of having seemingly depthless knowledge. Sherlock’s mind palace was incredible- so incredible that I thought it was surely the stuff of fiction. On the contrary, it is a very real, very useful memory technique. This realization prompted me to search out a book that was both informative and entertaining to provide me further insight into this subject. That’s the story of how I came to read Moonwalking with Einstein.

Moonwalking with Einstein is the story of how Joshua Foer went from intrigued freelance journalist to USA Memory Champion in the space of a year. That’s got to jog your interest just a little bit, and if not, you’re probably dead and therefore not capable of feeling much of anything. After rescuing the book from the clutches of my mother I zipped right through, devouring every page as if it would change my life. It hasn’t changed my life yet, but it gave me some really valuable insights and lots of information on classical mnemonists, the human brain, and how average people can train themselves to have abnormal memories.

This book isn’t going to teach you how to be a genius and it’s NOT an all-inclusive instructional guide on how to use the variety of memory techniques used by mnemonists (people with A+ memory skills) around the world. The most valuable piece of advice I got from this was that IT IS POSSIBLE, though it takes a great deal of practice and the memory techniques aren’t quite as useful in everyday life as I had hoped. One particular section encourages you to remember a fictional shopping list with the memory palace technique and though a mere novice, I can still remember pickled garlic, cottage cheese, 6 bottles of wine, and 3 pairs of socks over a week after I initially read the passage. I’m pretty proud of myself!!

I would definitely recommend this for anyone who even has a passing interest in memory. I think you’ll find that it was time well spent. I’d like to continue working out my memory and perhaps memorize a deck of cards, a passage from a well-loved book, or piles and piles of facts! The reference section in the back is several pages long, so as time allows I may even do some further reading.


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