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Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything Hardcover – March 3, 2011
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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.
Author Q&A with 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)
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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"?
The book follows the gripping journey taken by Joshua Foer as he participates in the U.S. Memory Championship. As a science journalist Foer becomes interested in the champions' secrets as well as the secrets of the brain which we still do not fully understand.
Foer learns how to naturally memorize information with the help of experts and to master techniques which make memorization easier.
"Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything" by Joshua Foer is a fabulous memoir which is not only personal and informative, but also highly entertaining.
As a journalist, Mr. Foer became interested in those "mental athletes" who can memorize random data (order of packs of cards, long lists, etc.) when he covered the U.S. Memory Championship as an assignment. As he researched more into this area he became intrigued and wondered if he could do it also.
At the start of his research, Mr. Foer went to meet psychologist Anders Ericsson who studies those with exceptional memory. "SF" can remember 80 digits after a single hearing, for example. During Foer's attempt, Ericsson would study him - a man without an exceptional memory. However, in a very poignant part of the book he also meets with a man who completely lost his short term memory.
Over the next year Foer studied hard to improve his memory, or rather improve memorizing random stuff (there is a difference as we find out). The path we find ourselves going along with Mr.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Well written and thoroughly researched. Interesting glimpse into memory and how our minds work (or don't). Read morePublished 1 day ago
It's fun to read the story about the author, a guy with normal memorizing capacity, winning the international memory competition. Read morePublished 5 days ago by kekkai
Interesting story. Its a great accomplishment for Joshua, probably a bit lucky too, but that's beside the point. Read morePublished 7 days ago by KingKongKdub
Great book and an amazing look at memory and how it works. A fascinating trip with the author on his journey and quest. Read morePublished 9 days ago by Elizabeth T. Fitzsimmons
I had very high expectations after listening to Quantum memory from Dominic O Brien and thought this audio book will provide additional tips/techniques on improving memory power. Read morePublished 9 days ago by Arumugam Sivasubramanian
Learn some useful memory techniques such as the method of loci and enjoy the adventure and discoveries the author went through. At the end of the day practices makes perfect.Published 13 days ago by Amazon Customer
I would like to get a graphic with a lot of the text so that I could "see at a glance" as well as read it in paragraph format.Published 15 days ago by Amazon Customer