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
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
Hey Audible, don't raise prices and I promise to buy lots more books.
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.
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.
My favorite audiobooks are narrated by Mike Chamberlain.
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
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.
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 ...
this book was very interesting .. although a bit heavy on the ancient history. fascinating concept, though.
I love learning, teaching, and exploring!
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.
Telling all my friends this is the second-best book of non-fiction I have ever read and it was much more entertaining than the Bible. After I finish re-hearing Moonwalking a second time I will examine whether it might be first when I reconsider whether the Bible should be fiction VS non-fiction. Joshua wa a genius before he decided to compete and the Bible is due no dis' here. Incredible listen. And Mike Chamberlain is great as reader. Stellar Stellar title!!!
P.S. Not just telling my friends...telling people I don't even know yet...
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
The idea of organising my mind like a piece of realestate!,it works!!
This book should be made to be compulsory reading by all educators,before it is too late
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
Very interesting story. Not a self-help memory book, but more about the research, history and culture of memory, woven around Foer’s efforts to go from covering the U.S. Memory Championship to winning it the following year.
Three big takeaways for me (the most important at the end):
1. Even after becoming one of the top “mental athletes” in the world, he quickly reverted back to his old ways (e.g., making written to-do lists, writing down things he needed to remember on sticky notes, etc.). I’ve personally felt guilty most of my life for not working harder and applying techniques I’ve learned in memory books, but now I don’t feel so bad. Foer says the techniques used to memorize decks of cards, numbers, names, poems, etc., are great for students in high school or college, but they aren’t necessarily applicable or desirable for the rest of us.
2. Everyone, including you and me, forgets all but the smallest bits and pieces of most every book they read. However, writing detailed and critical reviews -- like we do here -- is extremely helpful in countering this forgetfulness.
3. Think about what the sum of your existence is to you: It’s pretty much your collection of memories. If your life consists of dull routine (work, home, TV, bed) you’ll be one of those people who says, “Where did the last 10 years go? What did I accomplish?” But filling your time with memorable events makes your life seem longer and fuller. My advice: tend toward action rather than inaction. Resist the urge to veg out in front of the TV. Go. Do. Stuff!
I'm one of those people who forgets what he had for breakfast, so I thought this book might shed some light on how people with exceptional memories manage to remember thousands of numbers in sequence.
Joshua Foer had an average memory, just like the rest of us, until he decided to follow the "Memory Sport" circuit for a couple of years. He was just an observer, but soon became the national memory champion, proving that anyone can learn to improve their memory.
This book isn't a self-help book and it doesn't spent too much time on techniques or tricks to improve your memory. It's more about the journey itself and that makes it more... memorable.
Business Physicist and Astronomer
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.
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