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The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book about a Vast Memory Paperback – May 30, 1987

ISBN-13: 978-0674576223 ISBN-10: 0674576225

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (May 30, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674576225
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674576223
  • Product Dimensions: 0.4 x 5.2 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #130,236 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

A distinguished Soviet psychologist's study…[of a] young man who was discovered to have a literally limitless memory and eventually became a professional mnemonist. Experiments and interviews over the years showed that his memory was based on synesthesia (turning sounds into vivid visual imagery), that he could forget anything only by an act of will, that he solved problems in a peculiar crablike fashion that worked, and that he was handicapped intellectually because he could not make discriminations, and because every abstraction and idea immediately dissolved into an image for him. It is all fascinating and delightful. (New Yorker)

Luria's essay is a model of lucid presentation and is an altogether convincing description of a man whose whole personality and fate was conditioned by an intellectual idiosyncrasy. (Times Literary Supplement)

[A] compassionate and vivid portrait. (Los Angeles Times Book Review)

A welcome re-issue of an English translation of Alexander Luria's famous case-history of hypermnestic man. The study remains the classic paradigm of what Luria called 'romantic science,' a genre characterized by individual portraiture based on an assessment of operative psychological processes. The opening section analyses in some detail the subject's extraordinary capacity for recall and demonstrates the association between the persistence of iconic memory and a highly developed synaesthesia. The remainder of the book deals with the subject's construction of the world, his mental strengths and weaknesses, his control of behaviour and his personality. The result is a contribution to literature as well as to science. (Psychological Medicine)

Language Notes

Text: English, Russian (translation)

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Customer Reviews

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In analyzing S's memory, Luria leads the reader to deal with Synthesia of which S. possesses.
J. Reich
This short book is quite easy to read and fascinating enough to hold one's interest all the way through.
David Graham
Fascinating book - read it years ago and wanted to read it again and have a copy in my library.
Ted R.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 58 people found the following review helpful By David Graham on September 7, 1998
Format: Paperback
I first encountered the name of A.R. Luria in the works of neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, and am glad that several of Luria's works have been translated from Russian into English. The Mind of a Mnemonist is an insightful inquisition by Luria into a man he knew for several decades who had a literally limitless memory. The man - called 'S.' in the book - had an especially vivid synesthesia, whereby he converted what he saw or heard into vivid visual imagery, with powerful gustatory and auditory overtones as well. To forget things required an act of the will, and in some respects his prodigious memory was actually a hindrance for him. This short book is quite easy to read and fascinating enough to hold one's interest all the way through.
This book, Oliver Sacks' The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (especially his chapter on "The Twins") or An Anthropologist on Mars (cf. the chapter "Prodigies"), and Donald Treffert's Extraordinary People: Understanding "Idiot Savants", all explore people whose memory is astonishingly accurate and sometimes limitless. These are fascinating and highly stimulating accounts that arouse our sense of wonder.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Al Kihano on April 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
You will never think about your mind the same way. A. R. Luria's most famous subject was a young Russian man whose talent in life was to be able to recall anything -- literally *anything* -- that he set his mind to remembering. His talent was prodigious, and we are fortunate that a researcher as talented and humane as Luria found and studied him. This resulting volume is a beautiful account of how his memory worked, of a doctor-patient relationship that spanned decades, and of how what appeared to be a gift turned out to be a curse.
A beautiful book.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Harper on August 7, 2003
Format: Paperback
One of the positive side-effects of Oliver Sacks is that he has called attention in America to the works of the great Soviet psychiatrist Aleksandr R. Luria, many of which have been translated from Russian into English.
"The Mind of a Mnemonist" is a slim book that tells the story of a man identified only as "S," whom Luria knew and worked with for decades, a man who literally could not forget. Like other such bottomless memories, "S" was a side-show curiosity whose ability was a burden as much as a gift. Luria details the difficulties "S" had in grappling with daily life, where thinking clearly depends so much upon forgetting the useless.
I have no idea whether Borges had ever seen this book when he wrote "Funes the Memorious," which is a wonderful fictional account of just such a mind.
The book also takes a fascinating detour into the condition that somehow gave "S" his powers, synesthesia. People with synesthesia can "hear" colors and "see" sounds. Smells have textures. Shapes have sounds. This seems to be a natural condition in infancy, but most people lose it, except for remnants of this when people talk about "warm" colors or "cold" sounds.
The composer Alexander Scriabin was among those who retained a complex synesthetic sensitivity into adulthood. S. was another. "What a crumbly, yellow voice you have," he told one psychologist. For him, numbers had personality: "5 is absolutely complete and takes the form of a cone or a tower -- something substantial. ... 8 somehow has a naive quality, it's milky blue like lime ...." And Luria gives this account of an experiment: "Presented with a tone pitched at 2,000 cycles per second and having an amplitude of 113 decibels, S. said: 'It looks something like fireworks tinged with a pink-red hue.
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful By J. Reich on August 30, 2001
Format: Paperback
Referenced in numerous psychology and memory books is where persons might locate this book. The account of S. and his spectacular memory is almost legendary in the psychology, and memory community. This was my fortunate pleasure in locating the above reference in the following book: Your Memory How It Works and How To Improve It By Kenneth Higbee. A fine memory book. The Mind of a Mnemonist is not written as a fictional account of a person named "S". Non-fiction might be where the beauty lies. Aleksandr Romanovich Luria is a Russian psychologist. The mnemonist "S" is a Jewish man. S. is studied under a 30 year period. At the beginning of study, S. is under 30 yrs of age.
Luria catalogues his work very well. From the beginning of Luria's research then continuing to analyze S's memory then furthering to S's mind, behaviors, and then personality. Moreover, S. makes many of the comments of his own memory ability throughout this book. In analyzing S's memory, Luria leads the reader to deal with Synthesia of which S. possesses. This a integral part of S's phenomenal memory ability. S. would see splashes of color or puffs of steam regarding different sounds. In chapter 3 Luria conducted different sound tests of which analyzed S's Synthesia.
For more information regarding Synthesia, I would recommend Richard Cytowic's book "The Man Who Tasted Shapes". Luria also deals with S's ability to figure math problems. S has a great ability to easily solve certain math problems. His visualization capabilities are in high assistance with his ability here. Chapter 5 is most interesting: Luria comments on S's "Strong Points" and "Weak Points" regarding his memory.
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