Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Moonwalking With Einstein - Review

After stumbling on to the competitive memory circuit, the author embarks on an unlikely quest to become the memory champ in the next U.S. competition. This book chronicles his journey and provides a fascinating account about the history and science of memory along the way. 

I started reading this book knowing very little about the art of memory other than a basic definition of mnemonics. The author describes many of the techniques that he used to increase his memorization skills, including:

Memory Palaces: Places you create in your mind to store visual memories

The "Major System" for memorizing numbers phonetically

POA Systems for memorizing numbers and/or cards: Person-Object-Action sequences for individual numbers (more interesting than it sounds)

This information was brand new to me. As Foer is introduced to these techniques, you can feel his enthusiasm for learning new ways to use his brain. The art of memorization is all but lost in our current society of externalized data storage, but it does not have to be that way. The techniques that this memoir introduces will start you down the same path if you like; either way, it's a great read.

In fact, once I started reading this book I could not put it down. The entire memoir is well written and keeps the reader's interest page after page. Though this is certainly not a how-to-book, it is a great starting point to learn more about memory principles.

The author includes really interesting discussions about memory and creativity throughout. Though they may seem to be opposites at first glance, the author argues, compellingly, that they go hand-in-hand. My favorite chapters were:

The Memory Palace: Details the history of this visual/spatial memory technique and point the reader in the right direction if they want to learn it.

The End of Remembering: This chapter chronicles the reasons behind why we don't commit things to memory anymore. This account was very interesting, especially for the implications in scripture memory. I am guilty of reading widely at the cost of reading deeply.

The Talented Tenth: This short chapter discusses some of the implications of memory and our school systems. Very interesting account of how memorization came to be disdained in the school system and the consequential effects.

The Little Rain Man In All Of Us: Talks about the processing power of our brains and what savants can teach us. This chapter includes very interesting interviews with the man who inspired Rain Man and Daniel Tremmet, the subject of the documentary Brainman.

The whole book is a really great read and is highly recommended. The only thing missing is a further recommended reading list. It will entertain you and possibly inspire you to practice the art of memory for yourself; it has inspired me to commit to memory many of the things that I have forgotten many times over. 

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