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Editorial 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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not what I expected

Definitely a good book and interesting story, but I was expecting to learn a bit more about techniques to improve everyday useful memory.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Fast-paced and interesting non-fiction

This was an interesting, well-written and eclectic book that entertained cover to cover. It has broader interest even though it's about a microsociety that most of us will never come across. It's another one of those books like Malcolm Gladwell's where you feel like you learned things, but you didn't realize it because it was interesting.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Spellbound

I enjoyed this book through and through. I read this in 2 days, while I was in Paris. There were many things I could have lent my attention to in those 2 days, but I found this book to be so captivating I couldn't put it down. I found myself making excuses to listen to it wherever I was. It combines interesting narrative with scientific information and historical context. One of my best reads this year.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Alan
  • San Diego, CA, United States
  • 05-12-11

Reflection on an experiment

Not a how to book but a wonderful description of the author’s journey into learning. Foer is an excellent writer reporting on a research study involving a memory experiment on himself.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Interesting but . . .

This was a fun and interesting book to read. The author is a journalist and decided to prepare for and participate in the USA memory competition - and won it. This book walks us through his 1 -year journey of what it took to prepare for the competition, and, in the process, we get to see how one memorizes things. I've tried the "memory palace" a long time ago before reading this book and it really does work. But I would say that this book is more about the journey the author took than about teaching you how to have a great memory - although he does tell you about the "tricks" used for memorizing. Overall, I liked it more as fun read than anything else.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • CBlox
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • 09-10-13

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!

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Barry
  • Petaluma, CA, United States
  • 01-10-13

Science? Or merely a human interest story?

Ever since I came across one of Foer's magazine articles some years back, I've been looking forward to this book. I expected it would delve deeply into the science of memory. After all, Foer is consistently billed as a science journalist, and we live in an era when neurobiology is making great progress. I expected the memory contest thing to be a useful hook to frame the whole thing. Well, it turns out the memory contest is the dominant topic of the book. The science is little more than a rehashed version of things you will find in other neurobiology books floating around. In fact, we may be dangerously close to having all the science writers just rehashing each others' books--the same stories, anecdotes, and studies seem to come up in each of them.

I was disappointed there wasn't more science in here. Foer states early on that we really don't know that much about memory. I still would have liked to see more about what researchers have attempted, even if it hasn't led to results. Foer also spends quite a bit of time on the memory prodigies of our time. Again, I would have liked to see him spend more time with the researchers who have studied these people.

As for the memory contest, it turns out to be just as nerdy a subculture as you would imagine it to be. That's not giving anything away. It reads a whole lot more like a personal account of the author's adventures with these so-called "mental athletes" than like a journalistic inquiry into "the art and science of remembering everything."

The book is more about memorization than about memory. It's interesting but not what I expected.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Moonwalking with Einstein

The book was well written, however,it was not what I had expected . I was made aware that people did engaged in games that challenged remembering. I did not come away with a manner I could improve my memering.

5 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Delano
  • Philadelphia, PA, United States
  • 03-31-11

Entertaining enough

Mainly a story of the author's personal experiences. If you are hoping to learn to improve your memory, this will not help at all - one of the key lessons is that memorizing things for a competition is a very narrow skill that doesn't really help in everyday life. I never got bored listening, though.

4 of 7 people found this review helpful

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interesting

very interesting part of the world to get a glimpse of.
Those interested in the mind will enjoy.