four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
52-May-June-2011
By: 
Joshua Foer
user_rating: 
0

The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

A-Moonwalking with EinsteinJoshua Foer is a freelance journalist based in New Haven, Connecticut. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Slate, and the Nation. This is his first book.

The Topic: In 2005, science journalist Joshua Foer observed the annual U.S. Memory Championship in the hope of finding "the smartest person in the world." While that didn't pan out--memory and intelligence are far from the same thing--Foer was intrigued by the idea that anyone could use the techniques displayed at the competition to perform astounding feats of recall. Moonwalking with Einstein is the story of how the author mastered the ancient "memory palace" technique to get his brain in shape for the competition, doing so well he even made it to the final round. Along the way, readers will discover (and perhaps even retain) fascinating facts about the nature of human memory.
Penguin. 320 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9781594202292

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Moonwalking With Einstein ... has a lot in common with Malcolm Gladwell's best sellers: it popularizes scientific concepts in a breezy, accessible fashion while cheerfully dispensing some practical insights and lots of entertaining anecdotes. ... His narrative is smart and funny and, like the work of Dr. Oliver Sacks, it's informed by a humanism that enables its author to place the mysteries of the brain within a larger philosophical and cultural context." Michiko Kakutani

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"In Moonwalking With Einstein, Foer charts his journey from observer to headphoned memorizer, with forays into the Renaissance ‘art of memory,' cognitive neuroscience, chicken sexing and the history of indexes. ... By book's end, Foer can boast the ability to memorize the order of nine and one-half decks of cards in an hour. Yet he still loses track of where he left his car keys like the rest of us." Alexandra Horowitz

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"As Mr. Foer's own occasional absent-mindedness should remind us, the human memory is a complicated, confounding subject. Yet, in the end, Moonwalking With Einstein proves uplifting: It shows that with motivation, focus and a few clever tricks, our minds can do rather extraordinary things." Elizabeth F. Loftus

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[A] fascinating scientific analysis of mnemonic mysteries." Keith Staskiewicz

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[A] beguiling exploration of the manifold aspects of memory and memorizing. ... The essential lesson he draws from his project is to remain alertly mindful of the world around us, for ‘we're all just a bundle of habits shaped by our memories.'" Roger K. Miller

Critical Summary

While all critics seemed to enjoy Moonwalking with Einstein, only one, the New York Times's Michiko Kakutani, drew attention to the quality of Foer's style and compared Foer to Oliver Sacks--instant credibility for any science writer. Many of the reviewers, however, are professional psychologists or other experts whose enthusiasm was somewhat tempered by skepticism about some of Foer's ideas on memory. Yet all the critics paid this book the most appropriate of compliments for its subject matter: they called the book "memorable"--especially the images in Foer's formidable "memory palace." Such a compliment is a sure recommendation for fans of writers like Malcolm Gladwell or Mary Roach, who approach scientific findings with grace, humor, and an eye on how readers can apply them to their own lives.