Moonwalking with Einstein

Moonwalking with Einstein (2011) by Joshua Foer is a well written, fun book about memorising. Foer started by looking at memory championships and then decided to learn some of the techniques himself and then wound up entering in the competitions himself.

The book has the common non-fiction style of a narrative, in this case Foer’s training, that is used to discuss memory and memorisation. This form is ironically somewhat similar to the way that memory techniques work. Foer goes over how memorisation is done by the masters by creating a place that can be walked through where the things that are to be remembered are placed. There are other techniques that are used for remembering digits and cards.

Foer also looks at how memorisation is part of culture, how before writing memorisation of epics was how human culture was transmitted. He also looks at how before books became cheap that memory was critical part of learning. Foer also points out that memorisation is still important in that knowing when things happened allows an overview to be created that means people can be creative with what has happened and understand how things fit together. The book looks at how some the memorisation champions want memorisation to become part of the school curriculum.

Foer’s improvement in skills also gives him a chance to look at intentional practice is such a critical part of improving people’s abilities at anything. Foer also looks at how some savants are probably just using memory tricks. He doesn’t discount all savants. He also looks at people who have had their memory fail in different ways including a man who can no longer form new memories.

Overall the book is surprisingly fun non-fiction read. It’s a slightly offbeat topic that is used by Foer to write an interesting, easy to read look at memory and memorisation and how memory shapes culture and who we are.

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