In his captivating new book, Moonwalking With Einstein, the young journalist Joshua Foer tackles the subject of memory the way George Plimpton tackled pro football and boxing…Mr. Foer writes in these pages with fresh enthusiasm. His narrative is smart and funny and, like the work of Dr. Oliver Sacks, it's informed by a humanism that enables its author to place the mysteries of the brain within a larger philosophical and cultural contex.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times
His passionate and deeply engrossing book...is a resounding tribute to the muscularity of the mind... In the end, Moonwalking with Einstein reminds us that though brain science is a wild frontier and the mechanics of memory little understood, our minds are capable of epic achievements.
It's delightful to travel with him on this unlikely journey, and his entertaining treatment of memory as both sport and science is spot on...Moonwalking with Einstein proves uplifting: It shows that with motivation, focus and a few clever tricks, our minds can do rather extraordinary things.
Wall Street Journal
"[An] inspired and well-written debut book about not just memorization, but about what it means to be educated and the best way to become so, about expertise in general, and about the not-so-hidden "secrets" of acquiring skills.
He explores various ways in which we test our memories, such as the extensive training British cabbies must undergo. He also discusses ways we can train ourselves to have better memories, like the PAO system, in which, for example, every card in a deck is associated with an image of a specific person, action, or object. An engaging, informative, and for the forgetful, encouraging book. —David Pitt
In his first book, freelance journalist Foer recounts his adventures in preparing for the U.S. Memory Championship, investigating both the nature of memory and why the act of memorization still matters. For much of human history, remembering was the key to retaining accumulated knowledge and wisdom. The invention of printing sparked the development of "externalized memory," which has been greatly accelerated by computers and the Internet. We need no longer remember everything, but rather know where to find it, relegating memory experts to a "quirky subculture" comprised of individuals able to remember a list of 1,000 numbers, the exact order of two decks of playing cards and other feats. Foer began to investigate this subculture and then joined it as he trained for a year to compete among other "mental athletes." Mental athletes are neither geniuses nor savants, but they have mastered the art of translating what the brain is not good at remembering—words and numbers—into what it is good at remembering—space and images. They employ the 2,500-year-old mnemonic device of constructing "memory palaces"—imaginary buildings with distinct images throughout these spaces. For example, an image of President Clinton smoking a cigar on the couch might be the number three. It becomes, of course, quite complex, but Foer emphasizes that memorization is neither a gift nor a trick; it is hard work developing "a degree of attention and mindfulness normally lacking." The author is as concerned with what memory means as he is with learning how to memorize. He offers fascinating and accessible explorations into the workings of the brain and tells the story of a man who could forget nothing and of another man who could only remember his most immediate thought. If "experience is the sum of our memories and wisdom the sum of experience," writes the author, what does it mean that "we've supplanted our own natural memory with a vast superstructure of technological crutches"? An original, entertaining exploration about how and why we remember.
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