Review: Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
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.
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