Moonwalking with Einstein : The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
by Joshua Foer

Overview -

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.  Read more...

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More About Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

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.

  • ISBN-13: 9781594202292
  • ISBN-10: 159420229X
  • Publisher: Penguin Press
  • Publish Date: March 2011
  • Page Count: 320
  • Reading Level: Ages 18-UP
  • Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Psychology > Cognitive Psychology & Cognition
Books > Self-Help > Personal Growth - Memory Improvement
Books > Science > Life Sciences - Neuroscience

BookPage Reviews

More than memorization

Quick: Can you list all the American presidents in order from first to most recent? How about most recent to first? If I say “pi,” is your first thought “I can recite that to 200 places” or “I’ll take mine with whipped cream”?

There are people for whom these questions are taken very seriously, and their sport is competitive memory. Journalist Joshua Foer set out to cover the U.S. Memory Championship, and ended up so obsessed with the culture and rituals of memorizing that he competed in the 2006 Championship himself. Moonwalking with Einstein chronicles his training, explains many of the techniques that memorizers use—the title refers to one of Foer’s visual cues—and looks at some of the people for whom these aren’t skills but a lifestyle.

Unsurprisingly, the people who gravitate to memorization are an eccentric lot. Foer befriends some competitors from the World Championship, and they’re a wild bunch. There are also many hucksters out to resell widely known information about memorization in the form of books, videos and live seminars. What is surprising is how easy the basic techniques are to learn. Virtually anyone can create a “memory palace,” visualizing a place they know intimately, then stocking it with vivid images to help recall information. It’s just a matter of consistent practice and making the images as striking as possible—which often means sexually explicit (some of Foer’s cues are both filthy and hilarious). Yet these techniques aren’t the cure-all that some might hope: After studying like a madman and competing in the U.S. Championships with impressive results, Foer goes to dinner with his parents and takes the subway home . . . where he realizes he had driven his car to the restaurant and forgotten all about it.

So why would anyone want to recite pi to 10,000 places anyway? We have so much technology storing our memories for us; what’s the point of using antiquated skills? Foer finds one answer in the case of an 84-year-old man who, due to illness, has no short-term memory at all. He occasionally eats breakfast three times in the same day, and is touched to the point of tearing up each time someone mentions that he has grandchildren, since he’s just learning of their existence for the first time. Foer describes him as attaining “a kind of pathological enlightenment, a perverted vision of the Buddhist ideal of living entirely in the present.” Our memories hold the content of our relationships and give us a context in which to view it—all the more reason to fine-tune this important and easily honed skill.

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