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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Incredible insights into the art of memory.
This book is worth reading for the account of Ricci's memory system alone. The way the Jesuits used the power of the sensory imagination to remember texts or chinese characters is inspirational. Spence explains the secrets of creating such a system, though this ain't no self-help book. But more interesting still was the way that Ricci used his imaginative interpretations...
Published on 26 Mar. 1998

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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
The title is misleading, and the blurb doesn't provide much accurate information either. This book is neither a treatise on the ancient and medieval systems of memory, nor a biography, but a meandering series of snapshots of Matteo Ricci, whose life in China at the end of the 16th century was fascinating (or might have been in the hands of a different author). The...
Published on 11 Oct. 2009 by D. Hilton


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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Incredible insights into the art of memory., 26 Mar. 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci (Paperback)
This book is worth reading for the account of Ricci's memory system alone. The way the Jesuits used the power of the sensory imagination to remember texts or chinese characters is inspirational. Spence explains the secrets of creating such a system, though this ain't no self-help book. But more interesting still was the way that Ricci used his imaginative interpretations of chinese pictograms to convey Christian images and ideas to the Chinese; and the way that he performed memory feats to impress and gain access to high chinese circles for his work.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Graceful, dazzling multicultural history, 8 Feb. 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci (Paperback)
Jonathan Spence's approach here is so effortlessly engaging, so like a work of historically informed fiction, that you can easily lose sight of just how responsible and convincing it is at the same time. Framing the book with Ricci's own mnemonic imagery gives Spence a complex but perfectly coherent lens through which to write. Spence deftly allows Ricci's own images to define the scope of the narrative as well, so he isn't burdened with scholarly asides attempting to fill in the gaps with a general history.
This is a book of simple genius. I've reviewed several books on Amazon, and never given a five star rating before. This wonderful book rates a five.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Memorable, 6 Oct. 2010
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This review is from: The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci (Paperback)
The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci uses a Chinese-language treatise by Ricci on the mnemonic arts as a guide to the story of his mission to China. Ricci was the first Christian missionary to be able to establish residence in Beijing, in 1601. His story is as remarkable - Ricci was able to learn Chinese well enough to translate books and debate points of theology with local scholars, and his capacity for memorisation appears to have been exceptional - as it is poignant. It also offers rich comment on mutual European and Chinese Renaissance-era prejudices. Indeed, Spence makes a very entertaining job of digging up colourful cultural details from both sides, and in painting the mission's political, economic, and religious context.

The memory palace was a system by which information was placed within the rooms of an imaginary palace, in this case a single room peopled with statues conjured for their association value with Chinese characters. Spence's book uses the palace images as its own guide, and he also analyses four religious prints published, with brief commentaries by Ricci, in a contemporary Chinese collection of graphics. The book is loosely chronological as well as thematic, following its protagonist from Macerata in Italy to Rome, Goa, Macau, and through various provincial cities to Ricci's death in Beijing. This is both an original and an insightful historical work, with wide relevance in spite of its specialised topic.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 11 Oct. 2009
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D. Hilton - See all my reviews
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The title is misleading, and the blurb doesn't provide much accurate information either. This book is neither a treatise on the ancient and medieval systems of memory, nor a biography, but a meandering series of snapshots of Matteo Ricci, whose life in China at the end of the 16th century was fascinating (or might have been in the hands of a different author). The extracts from his letters are vivid and exciting and provide flashes of insight into Chinese customs and the perils of travel by land and sea, but Spence's own writing is loosely organised and somewhat tedious.
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The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci
The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci by Jonathan D. Spence (Paperback - 26 Sept. 1985)
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