Moonwalking With Einstein…Foer’s Memory How-To

March 25, 2011

Remember to get to the Library to pick up Joshua Foer’s brand new book, Moonwalking With Einstein. If you’ve ever had any trouble memorizing lots of details, this is the book for you. It’s also an inspiring tale of what the human brain is capable of given sufficient focus.

You might be more familiar with older brother, Jonathan Safran Foer from his novels but Josh is no slouch. As a science journalist he covered the U.S.A. Memory Championship and became so intrigued by the competition that he worked with a memory coach and guess who won the next year? Moonwalking With Einstein describes his experience: “The U.S. Memory Championship is a rather bizarre contest held each spring in New York City, in which people get together to see who can remember the most names of strangers, the most lines of poetry, the most random digits. I went to the event as a science journalist, to cover what I assumed would be the Super Bowl of savants. But when I talked to the competitors, they told me something really interesting. They weren’t savants. And they didn’t have photographic memories. Rather, they’d trained their memories using ancient techniques. They said anyone could do it. I was skeptical. Frankly, I didn’t believe them. I said, well, if anyone can do it, could you teach me? A guy named Ed Cooke, who has one of the best trained memories in the world, took me under his wing and taught me everything he knew about memory techniques. A year later I came back to the contest, this time to try and compete, as a sort of exercise in participatory journalism. I was curious simply to see how well I’d do, but I ended up winning the contest. That really wasn’t supposed to happen.”

Columbia Pictures has already acquired the rights to adapt the book to film. The book is currently #5 on the Amazon bestseller list. Here’s a link to The New York Times review by Alexandra Horowitz and a link to Michiko Kakutani’s review for The Times which concludes with some excellent reasons to go out and read the book asap:

“More important, he says, he learned to appreciate the role that memory plays in shaping our identities and perceptions. ”Our ability to find humor in the world, to make connections between previously unconnected notions, to create new ideas, to share in a common culture: all these essentially human acts depend on memory,” he writes near the end of this appealing book. ”Now more than ever, as the role of memory in our culture erodes at a faster pace than ever before, we need to cultivate our ability to remember. Our memories make us who we are. They are the seat of our values and source of our character. Competing to see who can memorize more pages of poetry might seem beside the point, but it’s about taking a stand against forgetfulness, and embracing primal capacities from which too many of us have become estranged.”

Joshua Foer

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