Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

Goodreads: Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

Summary: Joshua Foer recounts his year of adventures training for the U.S. Memory Championship and shares what he learned about the human mind and memory.

ReviewMoonwalking with Einstein is a fascinating exploration of the history of memory and the capacity of human talent.  It does offer a disclaimer that it is not a self-help book to teach the reader how to capitalize on his memory, but there are just enough tricks mentioned to pique one’s curiosity and perhaps even get one started in learning.

This brief glimpse also prods one to question exactly how all this might be useful in a real-world situation.  In the memory championships, contestants memorize stacks of cards, strings of random numbers, and lists of random words.  The closest they seem to approach utility is in poetry memorization and face/name memorization (in which all of them seem to struggle).  Foer approaches something of an answer when he briefly introduces a teacher who uses memory techniques in his classroom, but little information is imparted as to how effective this, and there is still the matter of whether memorization serves its greatest purpose in the classroom, where students are expected to spit back information on tests.  Foer’s true answer comes only at the very end of the book, where he states that although he now has the ability to remember anyone’s phone number, it is a lot faster just to save it in his cell phone.

Still, this revelation does not leave the reader with the sour impression that all of this—the techniques, the competitions, the time it took to read about it all—was a complete waste of time.  Rather, the book exudes so much of Foer’s awe at how much the human mind is capable of, that the reader cannot help but be amazed, proud, humbled as well.  Foer introduces readers to men and women who work hard to constantly invent new and more efficient ways to memorize things, who break records all the time, and to men who have more natural abilities, savants whose brains are different and help them remember things in unusual ways.  The book is a celebration of the human mind and a reminder that we still have much to learn about ourselves.

Moonwalking with Einstein is quirky, but compelling.  Its nonfiction status should not deter anyone because it is universal and completely readable.  Foer is a journalist, so it has both strong writing and a strong narrative voice.   An absorbing work.

Published: 2011

2 thoughts on “Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

  1. katkasia says:

    I’ve often wondered myself what exactly the value of recalling the order of cards in a deck is, except perhaps as a party trick. Perhaps when card counting at the casino?


    • Briana says:

      That was my only conclusion!

      I do think this all sounds fascinating, but I’m past the only time I could imagine memorizing lists of things might have use–high school.


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