Monday, March 12, 2012

Moonwalking with Einstein

Moonwalking with Einstein,
by Joshua Foer

My friend Catherine lent this book to me after I attended a memory enhancement workshop through my professional society, IABC. I had read one of Foer's brother's books, Everything Is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran Foer.

In Moonwalking with Einstein, Foer sets out to study the quirky world of professional memory athletes. Within one year of his mental training with the experts (including his British coach), he actually competes in the USA Memory Championships, and even makes a world record in playing card memorization (although his record was broken in 2011).

Interweaving facts and history about memory (including research about amnesia, the history of memorization, and memory savants) with his own story of how he became a memory athlete, the book is interesting and memorable.

At the beginning of the book, Foer suggests that readers create a "memory palace" along with him to remember a random to-do list. I did the exercise and then recited the list to Mike. It was fun to learn a new trick like that...but at times Foer's adventures exhausted me (just reading about them!). Apparently, Americans are babies in the memorization world--akin to the Jamaican bobsledders at the Olympics. The real champs are the Brits and Germans, perhaps because they back into the past more than we Americans, who are obsessed with the future.

In the end, he concludes that it's really not worth all the effort. He forgets his car soon after the memory championships, proving that even though memory tricks can help you memorize facts and figures, they don't necessarily help you with the things that really matter.

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