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Customer Review

299 of 321 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Major limitations, July 22, 2006
A Kid's Review
This review is from: Your Memory : How It Works and How to Improve It (Paperback)
This review is written from the perspective of someone learning a lot of complex material who wants to retain the learned material for a very long time. The book does a poor job of helping with this goal, although it does address other goals (described below) fairly well.

The book starts with about 45 pages of general background on how memory works. The rest of the book is predominantly about mnemonics (124 of the remaining 172 pages). In particular, a great deal of time is spent on the Link, Story, Loci, Peg, and Phonetic systems. These systems are all very similar in both how they work and the type of information that one can learn. Essentially, they provide a framework for keeping track of an ordered list of items. Also, some can be adapted for remembering numbers. If you want to learn lists of words or some special numbers, then they will be useful. However, if you want to remember trigonometric identities or calculus, then they are not going to help much. (There was a mention in the book of Masachika Nakane, who applied mnemonics to trigonometry and calculus, but no information is given on how this was done.) The more abstract and/or procedural the material to be learned is, the less useful the mnemonics presented are.

Besides the limitations in the type of information that can be stored, most of the mnemonics are just temporary storage; if you want to memorize multiple lists and remember them at the same time, then these mnemonics are not going to be helpful. This is because the framework is recycled and this leads to interference between the lists. (There are some strategies presented to deal with this interference problem, but they don't sound very effective and they will not scale past a few lists.)

Most applications of Link, Story, Loci, Peg, and Phonetic mentioned in the book are pretty pointless. For example, the author claims that people can shout out 20 words in a row and he can recite them forward or backward, odd or even, etc. (Of course, when he has to reuse his system for the next demonstration, he will probably forget them all.) Another example is the author's claim that he learned the phone numbers of 100 people in one of his social groups. A third example is the woman who remembered her to-do list without notes. These feats may impress your friends, but the latter two can be done with a PDA; in fact, the first feat can also be done with the PDA if it has a voice recorder function.

In fairness to the book, I should mention some of the positives. It is probably one of the better in its class. It is well researched, written fairly well, and has extensive footnotes for further reading. It does describe how to use mnemonics to remember people's names: an important application that many people can use. Some information is given about how to memorize foreign language vocabulary; while not a lot of detail is given for this application, the task is sufficiently similar to many of the tasks outlined in the book that one could benefit from the book.
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Showing 1-10 of 14 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 30, 2008 5:18:02 AM PDT
What an excellent review.

Posted on Nov 19, 2010 10:46:29 AM PST
Michael Voce says:
A very fair and helpful review. If only more amazon reviewers were like this.

Posted on Jan 9, 2011 12:40:23 PM PST
Do u recommend another book that covers those defects in this book?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 17, 2011 6:36:02 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 17, 2011 6:36:50 PM PDT
The peg, loci etc. are useful for everyday use. I understand the criticism that the systems do not allow long term retention of lists etc. Still, these techniques are useful. If you have a recommendation for long term retention of "trigonometric" functions and similar information I also would be very interested. If not, why not write your own book?

Posted on Mar 28, 2011 5:34:03 PM PDT
J. Hylen says:
"Most applications of Link, Story, Loci, Peg, and Phonetic mentioned in the book are pretty pointless."

I understand this reviewers point of view, but I disagree. These techniques are quite useful in everyday life if you look for ways to use them. They require some effort to learn, but I believe it's worthwhile.

Also, I believe this book is about as even-handed and un-hyped as any book can be on memory. He admits the limitations of his approach, and quotes the science along the way.

If you just want to have a better memory, I can't remember a better place to start!

Posted on Mar 28, 2012 2:39:59 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 28, 2012 2:46:57 PM PDT
Jojoleb says:
I enjoyed your thoughtful review, even though this is my absolute favorite memory book.

The book is written by a psychologist who specializes in memory. He therefore relates in an exhaustive fashion how well each mnemonic type works and the limitations of each technique. This may be too much for many readers who just want to learn techniques without really caring about the science behind them. Moreover, this is not a how to manual regarding how to actually apply the mnemonic techniques to studying. There are other books that attempt to do this with varying degrees. Of the 'quick and dirty' type memory books, Harry Lorayne's Super Memory - Super Student: How to Raise Your Grades in 30 Days is a book on basic techniques (FYI, if you have one of Lorayne's memory books already there is no need to buy another. He basically repackages his information one book to the next). Lorayne's writing is often a little jokey and hokey, but you will be able to read it in half the time it would take you to read the Higbee book. Lorayne's is more of a 'how-to' manual.

Still--as Higbee states pretty clearly in the book--mnemonic techniques are only part of the picture when it comes to studying memory and mnemonics are only part of the picture. Memory is simply a way to store information. How you make connections between the facts and use facts to solve problems require skills that go beyond memorization. So, in spite of the hype of Lorayne's title Super Memory does NOT necessarily make a Super Student. Memorization is only a part of what it takes to become a good student.

The techniques in all memory books of this kind are virtually identical. They are incredibly simple, however, they take time to learn and time to apply. Mnemonics, as shown by the research quoted in the Higbee book, will actually pin things down in your long term memory more reliably and efficiently than rote memorization. However, they do take time to learn and apply. There is NO magic here--memorization with or without the use of mnemonics takes an investment of time and energy.

The mnemonics are actually relatively simple to learn. But then again, so are games like chess. However, just because you know how to move each piece on a chess board, doesn't mean that you are a chess master. Mnemonics are the same way. At first, they are clunky and seem to make the information take longer to learn. Over time, you will improve and using the systems will become easier. At least for me, however, mnemonics are not effortless. They will help but you need to put work into them.

Using memory systems you can learn more than just lists of objects or numbers. You have to strip down what you are studying into concepts and then remember the lists of the concepts and important numbers/facts using the link and/or peg systems. You then group these clusters of concepts and facts into different compartments using the system of loci. This is kind of like making a memory map within your head. As you go through your loci, you will recall the information better. Less important details tend to fill themselves in. All of this relies, of course, on being able to master the link system, the peg system, and the method of loci. The groundwork is important. When you first apply this to studying, it is a bear, but as you get used to doing this it becomes easier. As Higbee states in the book, you may want to use different locations for the system of loci for different courses or different subjects. The value of the methods for study is not being able to remember 20 random objects. The value would be to remember, say, 20 events that occurred in a certain timeline or remembering five theories that explain some outcome. In order to do this you have to take the time to organize your thoughts. It takes a lot of time and experience before you are able to do this on the fly as you read something.

Realize as well that you will then have to go over this stuff in your head and rehearse it a number of times before a test or you will certainly forget it. The value of repetition is NOT eliminated by using a memory system, even though memory systems help reduce the amount of repetition that you have to do to remember facts.

If you want to use mnemonics to study math and science, you have to think up ways of applying them to such study. Lorayne demonstrates some ways of how to do this in his book. I have to admit that it pushes the mnemonic methods to their extremes, but it can work. The problem is that with the humanities you have many more experiences and information to pull from in order to make associations. Oddly, the more information you have in your brain already, the easier it is to find a relevant association. Once you have the basic building blocks of chemistry, physics or math, for example, you have basic objects that you can use to associate and link to other objects so that you can more easily learn new information. When you start out, this is much harder.

The methods are simple, but they are not simplistic. It takes a lot of effort and imagination to make them work, but once you get to that point it really can make studying more efficient. There are still very few people who will be able to remember, for example, a stadium full of people, their names, and birthdays. These are the guys that appear on talk shows plugging their memory systems. It is truly hard to replicate these kinds of feats. Some of us may never be able to be mental gymnasts even with the memory systems in place, myself included. However, you can certainly improve upon your abilities by applying these techniques and they can actually help.

Posted on Nov 6, 2012 8:09:01 AM PST
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Posted on Jan 13, 2013 11:13:15 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Jan 13, 2013 11:13:34 PM PST]

Posted on Jan 13, 2013 11:13:44 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 13, 2013 11:15:15 PM PST
Michael says:
If you want to learn how to apply this technique to learning

Look up a blog called Scott H Young or Learning on Steroids. He teaches techniques on how to get in the right lifestyle (beating procrastination and getting more out of your hours) necessary for extreme learning. And he also teaches a method of mnemonics on how to not only learn faster, but to retain it as well.

He completed an entire 4-Year computer science MIT course, in just a year.

Posted on May 30, 2013 11:22:40 AM PDT
Ravi S says:
2 * seems a bit harsh. Looks like it didn't meet reviewers expectation, but the book description matches exactly what the reviewer says the book has. This review gets all these likes, weird. I can't even see if this reviewer has reviewed before. Very fishy.
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