Review: Moonwalking with Einstein – Joshua Foer

What’s the capacity of our memories? What does it mean to have outsourced our memory to technology? In Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, Joshua Foer explores the niche competition of the USA Memory Championship, human memory, and the lost art of remembering. Reporting on the Championship, Foer becomes obsessed with what he witnesses and takes up with Ed Cooke, a Grandmaster of Memory, who tells Foer he can train him to win the Championship within a year.

While not as compelling as Made to Stick or Blink, Moonwalking with Einstein is a fascinating book. The structure of the book intersperses Foer’s training with a general background and history of human memory. There are chapters on Kim Peek (the person whom Rainman is based) and Daniel Tammet, which examine savants, and chapters on people who have lost their short-term memories. Moreover, the book tracks the history of memory and how our ancestors used a technique called the Memory Palace or Method of Loci to visualize information inside of architectural structures.

What drives this book is the idea that anyone can learn these techniques and improve their memory. Will the reader be able to compete in the USA Memory Championship? Perhaps with daily training, yes. Will the reader come away with a better understanding on how to optimize their memory? Quite possibly.

It would have been easy for Foer to dominate the book, due to his obsession. In a sense, he becomes the story as he trains and competes for the USA Memory Championship, but the larger picture, human memory, provides a backdrop which scales down Foer’s training. Overall, it creates a book which showcases how one person was able to train their memory in an extraordinary way while providing context for those techniques. Moonwalking with Einstein is a wonderful book that is deeply reflective of the human mind.

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