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Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything Paperback – February 28, 2012


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (February 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143120530
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143120537
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (716 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,807 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, March 2011: Moonwalking with Einstein follows Joshua Foer's compelling journey as a participant in the U.S. Memory Championship. As a science journalist covering the competition, Foer became captivated by the secrets of the competitors, like how the current world memory champion, Ben Pridmore, could memorize the exact order of 1,528 digits in an hour. He met with individuals whose memories are truly unique—from one man whose memory only extends back to his most recent thought, to another who can memorize complex mathematical formulas without knowing any math. Brains remember visual imagery but have a harder time with other information, like lists, and so with the help of experts, Foer learned how to transform the kinds of memories he forgot into the kind his brain remembered naturally. The techniques he mastered made it easier to remember information, and Foer's story demonstrates that the tricks of the masters are accessible to anyone.
--Miriam Landis

Author Q&A with Joshua Foer

Joshua Foer

Q: First, can you explain the title of you book, Moonwalking with Einstein?

A: The title refers to a memory device I used in the US Memory Championship—specifically it's a mnemonic that helped me memorize a deck of playing cards. Moonwalking with Einstein works as a mnemonic because it's such a goofy image. Things that are weird or colorful are the most memorable. If you try to picture Albert Einstein sliding backwards across a dance floor wearing penny loafers and a diamond glove, that's pretty much unforgettable.

Q: What are the U.S. Memory Championships? How did you become involved?

A: The U.S. Memory Championship is a rather bizarre contest held each spring in New York City, in which people get together to see who can remember the most names of strangers, the most lines of poetry, the most random digits. I went to the event as a science journalist, to cover what I assumed would be the Super Bowl of savants. But when I talked to the competitors, they told me something really interesting. They weren't savants. And they didn't have photographic memories. Rather, they'd trained their memories using ancient techniques. They said anyone could do it. I was skeptical. Frankly, I didn't believe them. I said, well, if anyone can do it, could you teach me? A guy named Ed Cooke, who has one of the best trained memories in the world, took me under his wing and taught me everything he knew about memory techniques. A year later I came back to the contest, this time to try and compete, as a sort of exercise in participatory journalism. I was curious simply to see how well I'd do, but I ended up winning the contest. That really wasn't supposed to happen.

Q: What was the most surprising thing you found out about yourself competing in the Memory Championships?

A: In the process of studying these techniques, I learned something remarkable: that there's far more potential in our minds than we often give them credit for. I'm not just talking about the fact that it's possible to memorize lots of information using memory techniques. I'm talking about a lesson that is more general, and in a way much bigger: that it's possible, with training and hard work, to teach oneself to do something that might seem really difficult.

Q: Can you explain the "OK Plateau?"

A: The OK Plateau is that place we all get to where we just stop getting better at something. Take typing, for example. You might type and type and type all day long, but once you reach a certain level, you just never get appreciably faster at it. That's because it's become automatic. You've moved it to the back of your mind's filing cabinet. If you want to become a faster typer, it's possible, of course. But you've got to bring the task back under your conscious control. You've got to push yourself past where you're comfortable. You have to watch yourself fail and learn from your mistakes. That's the way to get better at anything. And it's how I improved my memory.

Q: What do you mean by saying there an "art" to memory?

A: The "art of memory" refers to a set of techniques that were invented in ancient Greece. These are the same techniques that Cicero used to memorize his speeches, and that medieval scholars used to memorize entire books. The "art" is in creating imagery in your mind that is so unusual, so colorful, so unlike anything you've ever seen before that it's unlikely to be forgotten. That's why mnemonists like to say that their skills are as much about creativity as memory.

Q: How do you think technology has affected how and what we remember?

A: Once upon a time people invested in their memories, they cultivated them. They studiously furnished their minds. They remembered. Today, of course, we've got books, and computers and smart phones to hold our memories for us. We've outsourced our memories to external devices. The result is that we no longer trust our memories. We see every small forgotten thing as evidence that they're failing us altogether. We've forgotten how to remember.

Q: What is the connection between memory and our sense of time?

A: As we get older, life seems to fly by faster and faster. That's because we structure our experience of time around memories. We remember events in relation to other events. But as we get older, and our experiences become less unique, our memories can blend together. If yesterday's lunch is indistinguishable from the one you ate the day before, it'll end up being forgotten. That's why it's so hard to remember meals. In the same way, if you're not doing things that are unique and different and memorable, this year can come to resemble the last, and end up being just as forgettable as yesterday's lunch. That's why it's so important to pack your life with interesting experiences that make your life memorable, and provide a texture to the passage of time.

Q: How is your memory now?

A: Ironically, not much better than when I started this whole journey. The techniques I learned, and used in the memory contest, are great for remembering structured information like shopping lists or phone numbers, but they don't improve any sort of underlying, generalizable memory ability. Unfortunately, I still misplace my car keys.

(Photo of Joshua Foer © Emil Salman Haaretz)

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

If you sometimes can't remember where you put your car keys or, like Foer, the car itself, don't panic. You're not alone, and you can do something about it. In this intriguing look at the nature of memory, Foer reassures us that we don't need to acquire a better memory; we just need to use the one we have more effectively. Foer introduces us to people whose memories are both astonishing, like the man who could memorize 1,528 random digits in order, and frightening, such as a man with such an extreme case of amnesia that he doesn't know his own age and can't remember that he has a memory problem. He explores various ways in which we test our memories, such as the extensive training British cabbies must undergo. He also discusses ways we can train ourselves to have better memories, like the PAO system, in which, for example, every card in a deck is associated with an image of a specific person, action, or object. An engaging, informative, and for the forgetful, encouraging book. --David Pitt --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Joshua Foer has written for National Geographic, Esquire, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Slate.

Customer Reviews

This book was very interesting and a fun read.
Colleen O.
I would highly recommend this book to everyone, whether you want to improve your memory or otherwise.
MattSoso
That is what Joshua Foer did to win the 2006 U.S. Memory Championship.
A&D

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

555 of 581 people found the following review helpful By David Sheppard on March 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one of those rare books that is not only a joy to read, but also immensely helpful. It can help all of us with something that is at once troublesome and worrisome: our memory. It does this with ease, not teaching us some grueling rote memory technique, but one that is easy, natural and intuitive. Yet Moonwalking with Einstein turns out to not be exclusively a how-to book on memory. So what is it?

Well, yes, it is about memory and how to improve it, but it is at once a history of techniques, a description of what memory is and what can go wrong with it, and also a running narrative of how the author, a journalist himself with no special memory skills, becomes one of the most proficient memory athletes in America.

I'd learned a mnemonic device to aid memorization decades ago while in college, and found it to be helpful, but for some reason I'd abandoned the technique once I graduated. But Moonwalking with Einstein expands the mnemonic technique I learned back then by use of something of which I'd never heard: the "Memory Palace." The Memory Palace exploits our inherent skill for remembering images and spatial locations, harnesses these two abilities we all posses in abundance, and relates them to the memorization of numbers, lists and assortments of other difficult to remember items. The amazing thing is that the Memory Palace not only makes memorization easy, it also makes it fun.

What makes the book so interesting is that it is narrative non-fiction and reads like a novel. The author locks his conflict with his own memory early on, gives a sense of rising tension as he accumulates the forces to overcome its limitations, and resolves this internal conflict at the end when he participates in the US Memory Championship.
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91 of 92 people found the following review helpful By micky on October 30, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Slowly over time, it has become an increasingly painful realization that I am forgetting things more and more. The fact that I'm constantly misplacing my wallet drives my fiance crazy. He will call me at work to remind me to pick up certain groceries on my way home, and I'll completely forget. It is frustrating and a bit on the annoying side. I even forget things at work, which makes my job more difficult.

I started doing some research on memory, and came across a book entitled, "Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything". The concept of this book seemed very interesting, so I purchased it and began to read it. I must admit, I was quite impressed. I had no idea that it was even possible to memorize 1,528 digits in an hour. Is a human brain really capable of such things? After divulging in this book some more, I realized that it is possible, with the proper training techniques for the brain, and memorization skills. How do we use the brain we have more effectively?

That's what this book is all about. It teaches us how to train ourselves to remember, through tests and skills. Who knew that we can actually train ourselves to remember? I certainly didn't, not until I read this book. I love the fact that this book isn't just a self help book; it's also Foers journey into the discovery of the human brain. His personal experiences makes this one entertaining, as well as extremely helpful. If other people can do it, then so can I. I must say, I have read this book twice already and I've applied some of the techniques into my daily routine, and I find it to be extremely helpful. Even my fiance has noticed the improvement in my memory.

I became so fascinated about reading this book, I wanted to learn more.
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626 of 679 people found the following review helpful By Kcorn TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Whether you have memory problems (can't recall the name of someone you met a week ago?) or not, you're likely to improve your memory after reading this book. Even if you don't - but odds are you will - it makes for fascinating reading.

It definitely was a major aid for me and I do think of it as a unique "self help" book, one that can have immediate results, helping to make life easier, alleviate tricky memory issues and more. I think it is important to disclose that I'm a Baby Boomer and my memory seems to have worsened with age. I used to recall the name of nearly everyone I met as well as both major and minor actors and actresses, all of my teachers (from kindergarten through high school) as well as the first and last names of every one of my high school classmates. I could recall even tiny details of books read long ago.

But Moonwalking with Einstein goes far beyond remembering the names of acqaintances. It can help make your daily life easier, aiding you when you try to find lost items - or keep them from getting lost in the first place- and actually train you to find ways to improve your memory.

For added fun, the author includes examples of people who have amazing abilities to recall things. I wondered if at least one of them could give Vegas a run for its money or even be banned from casinos. Although I don't plan to test my abilities in Vegas, I have been practicing in casual card games, with gratifying results. The surprised looks from friends and family members was worth the cost of the book.

I'd strongly recommend you give this one a try. The techniques can even be fun for a whole family to share - and test -together. And c'mon...how can you pass up a book which explores "the art and science of remembering everything"?
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