Moonwalking with Einstein : the art and science of remembering everything, Joshua Foer.


Edited in March 2011, nonfiction.

The main subject of this book is human memory. Both title and subtitle are misleading. It is not a self-help book and it is neither a guide on how to enhance your memory or mental capabilities. It is not on the other end a vulgarization of scientific concepts written by a researcher. It does contain the basic concepts of memory training and is deserved by a furnished scientific and historic bibliography. But it is also an adventure, a personal journey written by a journalist.

The book alternate chapters centered on three broad subjects in regards to human memory.

The author describes instances of either hypermemory “savants” of traumatic memory losses. He presents two older cases through their scientific literature. Extreme cases of memory losses and hyper memory were essentials in the early comprehension of memory . The most interesting and touching part is the account of real life meeting with persons affected by memory loss a near perfect recall.

Some chapters treat of the theories behind human memory, how it is related to learning. A interesting notion described, is the OK plateau. It implies that constant practice does not guarantee constant progress, but progress until the brain goes into a kind of semi-automatic mode. We learn until we are good enough but no more. Breaking from this plateau implies reaching for always more difficult exercises, and getting fast feedback. Those chapters also reference ancient treaties on the art of memory. Through references to scientific and historic literature, the author gives hindsight on how the concept of learning has changed over the years and the evolving role of memory since the invention of writing.

The third category of chapters concerns the training of the author for the upcoming US memory championship. As a complete beginner at the start of the book, the author trains from the ground up with exercises, techniques, under scientific scrutiny. While doing that, he explores the memory scene and meet individuals high in color. In the end, the author exposes a grounded and realistic view of his journey.

I recommend this book for anyone curious about the subject.

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