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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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  • Overall

Got the Ball Rolling

One thing I would like to point out in this review is that about two hours in I also said to myself... this book is a snoozer... but, if you can hang in there, it does get VERY informative. I actually was able to gather alot of things that I can do to get my memory going in the right direction. I am actually suprised that the two reviews before me say they weren't able to gather any tips from this book. ... among many more a couple of these tips include: How to use a memory palace (I know that sounds funny but, TRUST ME... I am notoriously bad at this stuff and that memory palace thing actually worked!), The Major System (which I havent employed yet but I can see that actually being very easy for remembering numbers), techniques to train your mind to stay out of automation.... or not drop into an autonomous state and therefore basicly fall into a rut... and above all else for me the thing he points out and makes very clear throughout the book is to eat, breathe, smell, taste, touch, and fully ENJOY everything that you want to remember... obviously this last thing I am mentioning was extremely helpful not only for my memory but also for my day to day life... I gotta say, I have been kinda inspired by this book.

62 of 63 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • michael
  • ellicott City, MD, United States
  • 03-13-11

Interesting Topic, Great Narrator!

This is not a self-help book. It offers a historical view how memory has been applied over hundreds of years and then questions basic assumptions and limitations we commonly accept about our ability to memorize things. After listening, I'm now ready to find a self-help book and attempt to improve my memory with a better understanding of the subject. The book has a lot of humor in it too!

39 of 40 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

I thought it would help my memory

But that was not really the gist of this book. It turned out to be more about the "sport" of competitive memorizing. There are people who compete all over the world in huge competitions to see who can memorize the longest string of digits, who can memorize a group of people's names the most accurately, and so on and so forth. They can train for years, and up to 6 hours a day. If I spent that kind of time on learning to memorize, I would not need to make a shopping list! At least I hope I wouldn't.

The author also follows people who are able to make complicated calculations in their heads, or can know how many toothpicks there are in a pile on the floor without counting them. He looks at savants, such as Kim Peak, the person on whom the character in the movie "Rain Man" is based. I found that all very interesting, and enjoyed hearing about it very much. But the part I liked best was the history of memorizing. I didn't even know there was a history of memorizing, but there is, and it is quite fascinating. It is easy to understand that one of the key components to our humanness, to our ability to relate, invent and progress, hinges on our memories. Without them, we have pretty much lost everything. I learned that when I watched my aunt lose herself in the vicious Alzheimer's disease as it robbed her of her memories and personality.

I also really liked hearing about how far the human ability to memorize can be pushed. It is quite phenomenal what our average human brains are capable of, when we choose to exercise and feed them properly.

This was a good book that was easy to listen to. The narrator is not my all time favorite, but at the same time, he did a very good job. If you are at all interested in learning more about how your memory works, I recommend this book. If you are interested in how to remember where you put your car keys, um, not so much. Aw heck, it's still a good read.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • sarah
  • san francisco, CA, United States
  • 06-03-11

Great narration, subject, story-- Loved This

I am not one to write reviews, and when I do they are usually to highlight what is wrong with a book. However, I can't say enough good things about this book. The writing is really funny and well done. The author seamlessly weaves between understanding of memory and cognition and the amazingly entertaining storyline of him being coached to enter the US Memory Championships-- challenging "mental athletes'" claim that "anyone can do this". The book blew my mind. Part anthropology, part brain science, part Toad's Wild Ride, I could easily listen to this book again just for the sheer pleasure. You won't be disappointed with this.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story
  • Cathi
  • Miami, Florida, United States
  • 12-15-11

Interesting, entertaining, and deep.

I bought this audiobook for a little light entertainment in the car. It blew me away. It is smart, very entertaining, and really makes you think about making positive life changes, better than any cheesy self-help book. The writing is witty and funny, the narrator is fluent and not at all monotonous. I will definitely buy it in text form from Kindle, though, so that I can go over some parts with more pause and detail.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about the human mind and our incredible natural abilities.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Kevin
  • Fort Collins, CO, United States
  • 05-18-11

Good Read

As someone who's always been considered to have a pretty bad memory, this idea of this book certainly intrigued me before reading it. It's both an interesting look into the world of competitive memorization, and helpful in understanding more about how memory functions. In terms of trying to improve my memory personally, I've walked away from the book with some insights into how to more memorably associate things that I try to remember so they'll stick. While that's true, don't go into this book expecting to come away with some secret that's going to improve your day-to-day memory instantly - I'm glad I didn't, because that's not the book's intent. The narration is well done, and I enjoyed Foer's style of writing.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Michael
  • NAPERVILLE, IL, United States
  • 03-29-11

Historically proven methods that work

I love his style of and chatty. Nice introductory chapters and a technique I learned while listening on the train (for half an hour) that allowed me to come home and impress my kids by having them write down a 50-digit number and then me recalling it digit-by-digit in order for them after studying it for 10 minutes.

I never thought about it before, but the book points out that before pen and paper, anything that needed to be preserved had to be memorized. That is why so many of the techniques mentioned in the book are from antiquity and continue to stand the test of time.

The mind likes sequential memories. Memories that are stored as part of a story that are made as multi-sensorial in the mind as possible are easily recalled. After finishing the book and applying some of the techniques, I can attest to the fact that my mind does operate in this fashion. Once a memory association is started vast amounts of information can be easily stored and retrieved. It is like knocking over the first domino in a series. They just lead into the next thought, which leads into the next. I was amazed how effortless it becomes once you get going.

The book also chronicles the author???s story of covering both the U.S. and world memory championships as a journalist that ultimately led to his own appearance in the tournament one year later. No spoilers here regarding how he did.

His story, the history of memory, and how to apply some of these memory methods make for an enjoyable book with practical applications in your daily life. I have been inspired to see how big of a memory athlete I too can become. Highly recommend.

32 of 34 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Informative, enlightening, and motivational

As others have said, this isn't a self-help book. Indeed, Foer has a fairly critical view of some of the self-help gurus who promote memory enhancement.

Mostly it is a history and analysis of how human memory has been used from a time before writing to the current age of instant recall via the Internet.

We also get some current science about how memory is handled in the brain and how some unusual individuals have naturally (or in one case unnaturally) acquired either perfect memory or complete lack of long-term memory.

The book is also an autobiography of how Foer attempted, without every having taken up the practice of competitive remembering, to compete in an effort to become a contender in the "sport's" championship.

I'm only about 60% of the way through this book, so the next 40% may change this review, but so far it's been very interesting to me, and I've already toyed with one of the techniques that Foer explains in the book. It worked, but of course I can't see using it extensively nor for everything. As I read this, it seems that there are many techniques, and it's not easy work. Remembering, whether it's wrote in the way most would try without any such techniques, or whether one uses these techniques, is hard work! Some of these techniques, though, also exercise a part of our brain which many of us have turned off, our creativity, and for some, like myself, it does take some doing to get those systems back up and running!

Enhancing ones memory has been touted by some as some kind of way of making one incredibly successful in life, but as I read this, it doesn't seem at all that this is a given, and many of the memory champions are otherwise unremarkable people. But I do think it is one way to "exercise" your brain in different ways, and can provide some definite practical advantages in many situations, it's just not going to make you a completely different person.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Gena
  • CA, United States
  • 03-21-11

A good book to share with others

I would echo some of the previous reviews in that, this is a book well worth listening to. The author talked about many facets of memory throughout history. He shared his journey with humor and insight. He looked at, explored and answered many questions we all have regarding memory and how it plays into our everyday lives. Historical, informative, practical and human. Extra points to Mike Chamberlain for an excellent narration.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jonathan
  • Trumbull, CT, United States
  • 04-09-11

Only Incredible

Instantly one of my favorite books ever. I'm only writing a review because I was curious to see if anyone possibly could give the book a bad review. Alas, amazingly some did. Of the very few negative reviews I read "boring" and "it didn't teach me to improve my memory". Are you kidding? How can some reviewers possibly not get what this book is about? It''s about the brain, and HOW memory works, and how it can be improved. Its not just another mnemonic technique, its the story of an amazing writer who tackled the subject like no other. Congratulations Joshua on winning the US memory championship, and more importantly, for providing for my family, me and the rest of the world with a road map to the mind that none had ever before written.

21 of 23 people found this review helpful