“Moonwalking with Einstein” by Joshua Foer

Fair warning: Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer (brother of Jonathan Safran) has nothing to do with Einstein. It was a selection for one of my book groups.

The book zooms from a myth of the creation of the art of memory in the 5th century BCE to the 2006 United States Memory championship. It then rewinds to a year before that, when Foer stumbled onto what would become a consuming interest in memory training. Turns out the brain _is_ like a muscle, and can be trained in the art of remembering. A key strategy is one you’ve probably heard of, memory palaces. Foer has a section in the middle where he gives a brief tutorial. Thanks to that, I’ll try to recall a list from the book 2 weeks after I finished it:

pickled garlic, cottage cheese, peat-smoked salmon, 6 bottles of white wine, 3 pairs of socks, 3 hula hoops, a scuba mask, dry ice, email [someone], flesh-toned catsuit, Paul Newman movie, elk sausage, directors chair and megaphone, pulleys and a barometer.

Results: remembered 15 items, but missed snorkel for scuba mask, dry ice for dry ice machine, email _Sophia_, SKIN toned catsuit, harness and ropes rather than pulley. You can see I did pretty well, but the differences are important in the international competitions.

Foer’s book is an easy, engaging read that covers history and neuroscience in interesting, accessible ways. He shows how our evolving technology is leading to less and less memory and he presents the question to the reader whether working to strengthen one’s memory is silly, admirable, or something else. I was struck that memorization is a neat trick, and can be useful, but wonder still, is it better than living in the moment?

2 Responses to ““Moonwalking with Einstein” by Joshua Foer”

  1. hopeinbrazil Says:

    This is the second time I’ve heard this book recommended. I worry about how technology is sucking away our need to memorize anything so I’d probably like this. =)

  2. Amy Says:

    I love science that is engagingly presented. Even if the skill itself is not very useful, the science and history behind it can be very interesting in the hands of the right author.