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Review: Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

March 28, 2011

Title: Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
Author: Foer, Joshua
Length: 307 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Science
Publisher / Year: Penguin Press / 2011
Source: TLC Book Tours.
Rating: 4/5
Why I Read It: It sounded like an interesting book, and my memory could certainly use some help!
Date Read: 12/03/11

The blurb begins:

On average, people squander forty days annually compensating for things they’ve forgotten. Joshua Foer used to be one of those people. But after a year of memory training, he found himself in the finals of the U.S. Memory Championship. Even more important, Foer found a vital truth we too often forget: In ever way that matters, we are the sum of our memories.

I always wonder about memories. I mean, mine is not so great in many ways, and I also have a much easier time with facts and figures than I do with faces or events. At one point in time, as Foer mentions through the book, education was all about memory and we all expected everyone else to have the same base knowledge – this is now no longer the case. It is no longer about learning facts but about applying them and seeing how they work. We have lost something important, Foer says, by losing that base.

I loved all of the facts that were contained in this book about history, science, and learning. I feel like I learned a lot about memories themselves and how our use of them has evolved through time. I also feel like I’ve learned more about why they are important and why I should be working on mine.

On page 67 Foer says:

Too often we talk about our memories as if they were banks into which we deposit new information when it comes in, and from which we withdraw old information when we need it. But that metaphor doesn’t reflect the way our memories really work. Our memories are always with us, shaping and being shaped by the information flowing through our senses, in a continuous feedback loop. Everything we see, hear, and smell is inflected by all the things we’ve seen, heard, and smelled in the past.

Speaking about my own memory issues, I got some further clarification on the science behind that as well. On page 81 Foer says:

Within the category of declarative memories, psychologists make a further distinction between semantic memories, or memories of facts and concepts, and episodic memories, or memories of experiences of our own lives. … Episodic memories are located in time and space: They have a where and a when attached to them. Semantic memories are located outside of time and space, as free-floating pieces of knowledge. These two different types of remembering seem to make use of different neural pathways, and rely on different regions of the brain, though both are critically dependent on the hippocampus and other structures within the medial temporal lopes.

So there you have it. I have better semantic memory. The science in that paragraph many seem like a lot but all of it is fully explained for the layperson and I didn’t find any of it dry or boring.

In addition to the science and history was the narrative arc of Foer’s own experience improving his own memory and competing in the U.S. Memory Championships. I found this arc just as interesting because it really showed how usable the tricks and tips are that he mentions. Will I try them? Doubtful. I thought about it a bit and it just really doesn’t make a lot of sense. It does intrigue me though and I may end up trying more, we shall see.

A really interesting book with a lot in it for everyone, I think. I’d highly recommend it to all those who love a good science or history book or those who enjoy narrative non-fiction.

Do check out the full tour schedule and the other participants. Here is the schedule:

Wednesday, February 23rd: Nonsuch Book
Thursday, February 24th: Debbie’s World of Books
Friday, February 25th: Book Club Classics!
Wednesday, March 2nd: Ken Jennings
Friday, March 4th: Eclectic/Eccentric
Monday, March 7th: Man of La Book
Wednesday, March 9th: Sophisticated Dorkiness
Tuesday, March 15th: Mnemotechnics.org
Thursday, March 17th: Mind Your Decisions
Monday, March 28th: Amy Reads
Wednesday, March 30th: In the Next Room
Thursday, March 31st: Luxury Reading

29 Comments leave one →
  1. March 28, 2011 8:54 am

    I really enjoyed this one too. Memory fascinates me, especially as mine is so strange (and pretty much terrible). I very rarely remember events from my past, and even memories of people get waylaid from time to time. And yet there are times I can remember quotes or statistics with no problem at all.

    • April 11, 2011 5:36 am

      Glad to hear you liked it as well Trisha. I’m similar. I can remember random facts and statistics but forget things that happened and people that I’ve met.

  2. March 28, 2011 9:31 am

    Memory fascinates me too. I love the sound of this book, but I wonder if I’d ever get around to trying the memory tips either. I have seen a few examples on TV and it always seems like so much effort. I’m sure it is worth it in the long run, but I think I prefer just writing things down!

    • April 11, 2011 5:36 am

      Heh yes I agree with you completely Jackie. I want to improve my memory, and the tricks seem to work really well… but it also just seems like such a lot of effort!

  3. March 28, 2011 10:37 am

    I got this book when I was at SIBA, but am not sure if it’s one that I really, really want to read. There seem to be some really interesting things about it, but some of the facts and issues that it presents don’t seem all that engrossing to me. I am usually one who learns best by memorization, so maybe I only feel this way because I think I might not have that much to learn from it, but I bet I am wrong. Still on the fence on this book, but your review made it sound a little more appealing to me. Thanks!

    • April 11, 2011 5:35 am

      Sounds like your memory really is better than mine at least Zibilee! I really liked it, but I can see that it wouldn’t be for everyone.

  4. March 28, 2011 12:29 pm

    With a background in Biology I think I would love this. More importantly, I want to improve my memory.

  5. March 28, 2011 3:08 pm

    Beside your review, I think I like the cover of the book. Thanks.

    • April 11, 2011 5:34 am

      It is really interesting isn’t it Geosi? I wondered how it was relevant at first but it works well.

  6. alberta ross permalink
    March 28, 2011 3:38 pm

    This sounds really interesting – I might well find a space to read it – thanks

  7. March 28, 2011 4:26 pm

    I also thought this book was really interesting, I even experimented with the “memory palace” technique (it worked). My thoughts are in the link in your post.

    • April 11, 2011 5:33 am

      Hey so glad the memory palace worked for you! That makes me think that I should really give it a try Man of la Book :)

  8. March 28, 2011 4:37 pm

    I’ve been hearing some interesting things about this book. I am very interesting in memory as I have a terrible one and like you I think my semantic is better then episodic. I will definitely have to look into reading this one … I love science related books.

    • April 11, 2011 5:33 am

      Yay it seems most people think I’m crazy that my semantic memory is better than my episodic so I’m glad you are similar Dragonflyy419!

  9. March 28, 2011 5:54 pm

    What a fabulous read. I’m also fascinated by memory (we have a history of dementia in my family), and I’ve read some great memory-related books recently. Have you tried The Story of Forgetting by Stefan Merill Block? It’s a fascinating story about early-onset Alzheimers that you might enjoy.

    • April 11, 2011 5:32 am

      Oh thank you for the recommendation Stephanie, sounds like a good book for sure.

  10. March 28, 2011 6:25 pm

    This book sounds fascinating and there seems to be quite a lot of good information in it. I’d really like to improve my memory which seems to be failing me lately so I might try out some of the memory tips!
    Great review!

  11. March 28, 2011 6:33 pm

    I rememeber the english equivilant of this guy a memory champion talking about the tricks to remember and I grew up watching Tony buzan a guy that talked about using your memory I tend be very photographic memory looks a good read AMY ,all the best stu

    • April 11, 2011 5:31 am

      Yes the English memory champions have a heavy presence in the book Stu :)

  12. March 28, 2011 7:03 pm

    I liked this one a lot too. I’ve been checking out the other book tour reviews, and I like that most people pulled out totally different quotes or ideas from the book. I think that speaks to the fact that it appeals to readers in a lot of different ways.

    • April 11, 2011 5:30 am

      Yes it is definitely a book with such a wide variety of facts and information that there is something different for a lot of people Kim. Glad to hear you liked it!

  13. March 29, 2011 2:08 pm

    I really love books like this that delve into little-known-to-the-general-public niches of society. I’ll definitely keep my eye out for this one!

  14. March 29, 2011 9:36 pm

    I really need to work on my memory. It’s getting soooooo bad…wait, what was I talking about?

Trackbacks

  1. March 2011 Reading Wrap-Up « Amy Reads

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