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The Art of Memory [Paperback]

Frances A Yates
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Dec 1974
One of Modern Library's 100 Best Nonfiction Books of the Twentieth Century In this classic study of how people learned to retain vast stores of knowledge before the invention of the printed page, Frances A. Yates traces the art of memory from its treatment by Greek orators, through its Gothic transformations in the Middle Ages, to the occult forms it took in the Renaissance, and finally to its use in the seventeenth century. This book, the first to relate the art of memory to the history of culture as a whole, was revolutionary when it first appeared and continues to mesmerize readers with its lucid and revelatory insights.

Product details

  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 2nd edition (1 Dec 1974)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226950018
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226950013
  • Product Dimensions: 21.7 x 14 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,672,209 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Frances Yates is that rare thing, a truly thrilling scholar" (Michael Ratcliffe The Times)

"One of those quite remarkable and unclassifiable books on the history of knowledge which suddenly makes sense of three or four issues in terms of one commanding metaphor" (Jonathan Miller Observer) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

A revolutionary book about mnemonic techniques, and their relation to culture as a whole, which is itself hard to forget. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
A book about memory? Mnemonics, eh? Dull stuff...

WRONG!!! This is just about the most engrossing scholarly work I have ever read. Quite apart from displaying a masterly grasp of her subject, which is far more interesting than I would have believed before reading the book, Yates throws fascinating light on a number of seemingly unrelated topics: the Roman art of rhetoric, the architecture of the Globe theatre, the foundations of Renaissance syncretism, the rise of the scientific method, the delightful irony of a patron saint of science turning out to be an arch-magician, psychological aspects of imagination... -- the list is a long one.

However, for me, it is Yates' illumination of the profound relationship between the scientific method and earlier attempts at mastering the universe by magical means, that stands out as a single, most important aspect of the book. In fact, I would go as far as to say that no study of history and/or philosophy of science can be complete without acknowledging and exploring the relevant insights of "The Art of Memory".

If you have any interest in human attempts to comprehend and control the universe, a well-thumbed copy of this book should be on your bookshelf!
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45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
The great shame about this book is that it is a little wordy in places; a good deal of editing and fine tuning would have made this fascinating and revealing book truly a work of genuis. As it is, it typifies a traditionally academic approach to scholarship from which it occasionally wrestles free to provide the reader with moments of real, valuable insights. Yates's book is hard to classify, for it covers so much ground, from ancient Greek influence, Kabbalistic thought in the middle ages, to the man Yates made her life's study, Giordano Bruno. However, what really is at stake here is the relationship between the "arts" and "science" (in both its conventional and etymological meaning.)
This book really ought to be read by the philosophers of mind, cognitive scientists and neurobiologists who are seeking to explain mental phenomenon, for it manages to distill the at times quite pertinent thoughts the medieval thinkers proposed about how we use our minds, and how we relate to the world through art and through language, in a way many more recent, and thus more "rigorous", treatments of the topic often cast aside. Yates seems to propose that the advent of Newtonian physics may be indirectly connected to a more spiritualist approach to the world which is now neglected in the abstracting drive of many sciences.
Although it is a tough read at times, it is very rewarding. It is the sort of book which restores one's belief in the value of true scholarship despite all its flaws.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A thorough, academic study of an ancient art 8 Dec 1998
By A Customer
Yates does an admirable job of researching this art. She begins, as many before her, with the tale of Simonides and his invention of the loci method of mnemonics. She also captures the scope and breadth of an art which traditionally formed part of the liberal studies of any educated westerner, be he Greek, Roman, or German. Yates leads the book towards a more occult vein when she studies Bruno and some of the medieval contributors to this practice. In the book's most interesting moments, she suggests that the Renaissance thinkers' search through the ancient memory treatises directly led to the search for method that Descartes, Bacon, et al. ruminated upon to create the modern foundations of science. Though this is a well-researched, and at times interesting book, the read goes slowly. Many of the themes and ideas appear in an overly repetitive fashion. Further, it is not a 'how to' book but a book on the history of an idea; one will know little about the improvement of memory and all the claims of the ages appear to be tricks at best. The spectacular memories of a few individuals seem less associated with a method and more a function of physiology. Whether or not this ars memoria should be reinstated seems questionable even after this long essay. Worth a read if you have the time and interest; can lead one on a thought-provoking journey with patient reflection.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Yates has written here probably the most comprehensive book on memory techniques that has ever existed, taking us right through from Ancient Greece to the dawn of the Enlightenment. The section on Giordano Bruno's contribution is quite simply brilliant. Yates shows both the types of techniques and their moral significance, plus some surprising insights into William Shakespeare and the Globe Theatre. Her understanding of Hermetic techniques is rooted in the beliefs of her time, which sees them as Greek rather than Egyptian. Modern Egyptology has demonstrated that the Hermetic tradition is deeply rooted in Ancient Egypt. For more information I recommend The Hermetica: The Lost Wisdom of the Pharaohs and Egyptian Cosmology: The ABSOLUTE Harmony: The Animated Universe. The Hermetic tradition was dependent on a personal transcendental ecstatic experience. To understand what drove Bruno on, and to have knowledge of the inner structure of Hermetic doctrine, I recommend Divine Magic: HH Classics - Pythagoras: The Seven Sacred Secrets of Manifestation (Hay House Classics)
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