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Moonwalking with Einstein | [Joshua Foer]

Moonwalking with Einstein

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.
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Audible Editor Reviews

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

Publisher's Summary

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.

©2011 Joshua Foer (P)2011 Penguin

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  •  
    Robert Yamhill, OR, United States 08-03-12
    Robert Yamhill, OR, United States 08-03-12 Member Since 2009

    Hey Audible, don't raise prices and I promise to buy lots more books.

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    "Unforgetable"

    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.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lynn BEAUMONT, TX, United States 05-04-11
    Lynn BEAUMONT, TX, United States 05-04-11 Member Since 2005
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    "Very Helpful"

    Joshua Foer started out to cover the US Memory Championship as a journalist and ended up mastering the methods of the masters. In this book, he traces the history of memory and how it was used in the ages before written language. He relates how persons compete in the Memory Championship, how they prepare, and what all this meant to Foer. Along the way he reveals the "art" of imagery and how it is used to advantage. Persons reading this book will be rewarded by the approach. The reading of Mike Chamberlain is excellent.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Valerie Brooklyn, NY, United States 10-02-12
    Valerie Brooklyn, NY, United States 10-02-12 Member Since 2011

    My favorite audiobooks are narrated by Mike Chamberlain.

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    "Moonwalking with Einstein, a Delightful Listen"

    In Moonwalking with Einstein, Joshua Foer mixes first-person investigative
    journalism, succinct history lessons and good all-around story telling in his effort to
    unravel the art of memory, which culminates in Foer’s unlikely hunt to be a memory
    champion. Listening to the audiobook, you will by delighted by Mike Chamberlain’s
    virtuoso narration.

    He brings to life the history of memory, mnemonic techniques,
    the latest scientific research on the brain, and the unforgettable stories of ‘S’, the
    man with the best memory in the world, and his foil “E.P.” I’ve listened to a lot of
    audiobooks in my time at Audible and few narrators compare to Chamberlain.

    After listening to this book, I was so impressed by his narration that I listened
    to several of his other titles including Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes and The
    Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robin new york, new york, United States 06-21-12
    Robin new york, new york, United States 06-21-12 Member Since 2010

    Hi all. I'm in my 50's (that's relevant, i think), and I favor fiction. I like the british sensibility, and was introduced to the Forsyte Saga through audible ... loved it! I happen to also like Chinese writers, but they are not well represented yet at audible. Looking to follow readers with similar tastes ...

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    "better than average"

    this book was very interesting .. although a bit heavy on the ancient history. fascinating concept, though.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nancy Waterloo, ON, Canada 02-11-12
    Nancy Waterloo, ON, Canada 02-11-12 Member Since 2010

    I love learning, teaching, and exploring!

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    "Easy and interesting read"

    This is written from a journalist's perspective so it isn't overly scientific and is easy to get through. Some of the case studies and feats of memory are incredible! An interesting read.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    CBlox Las Vegas, NV 09-10-13
    CBlox Las Vegas, NV 09-10-13 Member Since 2004
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    "This should be mandatory reading in middle-school"

    I wish I was taught these memorization techniques early on in my life. They can help everybody. This book will blow your mind if you allow it to. Take some time to try out some of these exercises as you listen to this book.
    I very much appreciated that this author dove into the subject matter by testing out the techniques for himself and even compete in memorization competitions.
    Very fresh read!

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Alan Brampton, ON, Canada 01-04-13
    Alan Brampton, ON, Canada 01-04-13 Member Since 2005

    Tell us about yourself! Physcian in Brampton. Stong belief in the importance of books on History.If we do not learn from the past we will make the same mistakes

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    "Learning How to Learn"
    Would you listen to Moonwalking with Einstein again? Why?

    Yes.because it made me try to organise my brain like I organise my computer instead of just throwing information at it.It explains what is wrong with modern education and how it could be corrected.Rote is cerbral gymnastics


    Which scene was your favorite?

    The idea of organising my mind like a piece of realestate!,it works!!


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    This book should be made to be compulsory reading by all educators,before it is too late


    Any additional comments?

    This book draws attention on how to learn a function that is being lost rapidly over the last century.,i.e how to learn. If we organised our mind with as much attention as our computers we will have greatly improved cerebral function

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Steven ALBUQUERQUE, NM, United States 06-10-12
    Steven ALBUQUERQUE, NM, United States 06-10-12 Member Since 2006

    Lover of sci-fi, fantasy, horror, mystery, and westerns in all media, including old-time radio dramatizations.

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    "Not a how-to book. Definitely worth the credit."

    This is not a how-to book on mnemonics or other forms of memory development. However, it's full of references to authoritative works on the subject and descriptions of some of the basic concepts. It's more of a journey book. It follows one individual's quest to master the tools necessary to compete in national and international memory championships and talks about the friendships formed along the way. He also writes about some of the very few individuals who seem to have the natural ability to perform extraordinary feats of memory and/or calculation without the tools applied by "mental athletes." Well read by Mike Chamberlain. If you have an interest in the subject, you won't be dissappointed.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chris Reich Northern, CA 01-06-12
    Chris Reich Northern, CA 01-06-12 Member Since 2005

    Business Physicist and Astronomer

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    "Remember This: Scattered"

    This book is huge disappointment. When I read the synopsis I thought, "okay, it's about one thing so it must be coherent." Wrong again. About the time he builds interest and gives enough background to grasp where he's going, he's off in another direction. And I mean a confusing direction. Twists and turns are one thing, going in aimless circles another.

    The book has a lot of really interesting material and anecdotes---even some memory tips. But it's scattered. I had a very hard time staying interested because he was all over the board.

    Oddly, I feel the same way about Jonathan Foer's writing. (They are brothers) I hated Eating Animals because it was all over the bored [sic].

    So, take what I say here with a grain of pepper. It could just be me. Friends of my age group also found "Eating Animals" scattered. But younger readers love it. I suspect this book may get a similar reception from a more mature reader who appreciates a bit more continuity. For me, it's maddening to get interested in the journey only to be dumped off into yet another side street.

    Chris Reich
    TeachU

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    01-06-12
    01-06-12 Member Since 2006
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    "Fascinating, informative...where are my glasses?"

    I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It is not a genre that normally attracts me, but after several recommendations from another book group, I gave it a go. I found it simply fascinating! I found the first part of this book, especially, compelling and informative, filled with information and details about how the brain works, stores and retrieves information. Much of the information I have seen alluded to and referred to in headlines or self-help books, but this went further citing the studies and giving just enough background and detailed information so that a non-techie like me can still follow the information without getting overloaded by geek speak. We then follow the author of the book for a year, from his first observation of the American Memory Championships observing what appears to be absolutely astounding feats of memory to his participation in the same competition a year later.

    Throughout this process, we learn that the world memory champions don't tend to have any special IQ gifts but have simply trained themselves and learned various memory tricks that work in different areas of memory. For example, memorizing a poem is an entirely different type of memory skill than memorizing a random set of numbers or a random list of items. I must say that I did one of the exercises along with the book as directed and now, about a month later, I can still recall the randomized list of 15 items without much effort which is simply amazing to me. However, I'm still having trouble remembering where I left my phone and my glasses which is where I REALLY need help!

    I found the first half of the book absolutely fascinating because it was all about the way the brain works filled with interesting facts about education over the centuries and how the availability of information has changed our learning/educational process. The second half of the book tended to focus more on the author's training for the memory championships. While I found some of this interesting I did not find that part of the book nearly as compelling as the onslaught that delighted me at the beginning of the book.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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