Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Book Review of Moonwalking with Einstein

"Imagine waking up tomorrow and discovering that all the world's ink had become invisible and all our bytes had disappeared.  Our world would immediately crumble.  Literature, music, law, politics, science, math: Our culture is an edifice built of externalized memories." -- Joshua Foer, Moonwalking with Einstein 

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer is a writer's journey from reporting on the U.S. Memory Championship to, a year later, becoming a contestant.  The book is a look at how the author trained for the competition, including the details of techniques used to train his memory.  Also included is a boat-load of fascinating information about our memories - what we understand about them and what we don't; how practice and experience play into developing the memory; and evidence that creativity and remembering go hand-in-hand.  It's about the important role memory played in past history to preserve text and ideas, as well as build character.  (You'll read, for example, of how the printing press impinged the art of memorization and how that art became corrupted in Western education.)  Sprinkled throughout are interviews with a variety of people - from the top memory athletes in the world to the individual about whom the film Rain Man was made to a teacher who's using memory techniques to help his students rise above poverty.  

I especially appreciated how the author summed up his year of memory-training.  His conclusion?  That the most obvious benefit of the time he spent training his memory was to be more mindful and to pay attention to the world around him. 

". . . but there is something to be said for the value of not merely passing through the world, but also making some effort to capture it - if only because in trying to capture it, one gets in the habit of noticing, and appreciating."

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