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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 4 June 2007
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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48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on 5 January 2000
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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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on 8 December 1998
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 1 people found the following review helpful
on 15 October 2014
I first read this some few years ago and its general idea of an architectural aid to memory sceptisim has been remembered. Having come across what seems to be a consistent scepticism expressed regarding writing in a number of the dialogues of Plato, where Socrates retells the story of Theuth - the 'originator' of writing, I felt I needed to re-read Frances Yates' discussion on memory in order to see if there were any links with what I am currently also reading. The relation of writing to memory is two fold: the first is that it is an aid to memory. Alexander the Great who Yates mentions was said to remember all the names of the men in his army and their faces. In the Dialogues of Plato, characters seem to be able to recall what had been previously said in great detail. What Plato, aka Socrates seems to foresee is that what becomes an aid to memory - people still write shopping lists, becomes a substitute for it. The second aspect of writing is to aid communicating something to more than one person. One of the ironies is of course that we do not always remember what we have written. With a rising eklderly population and an increase in associated problems like dementia, te topic is still relevant.
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on 19 March 2015
Again an old favourite of mine. This edition I bought for my grandson who is studying at University and claims his memory is not too good. This will put him on the right track. Excellent, well presented, giving a solid history of the art of memory. I recommend it to anyone who has trouble remembering where their shopping list... or simply those preparing for public speaking.. It has many uses for anyone who needs to keep thinhgs in mind. I prefer it to ?Tony ?Buzan's books . He advocates a different way of memory traihing which I studies but found it did jnot work for me. This book did.. and at 86 years old.. my memory is good enough to give a two hour lecture without notes..
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 23 July 2012
Never less than fascinating, a brilliant academic examination of the art of memory in the middle ages and renaissance. The flaw for me is that the author clearly had no experience or understanding of what makes an art of memory that works. If only she had spent some time talking to a contemporary mnemonist like Harry Lorayne, she might have had a better insight into the differences between someone like Peter of Ravenna, who clearly used a system that worked, and Petrus Ramus, whose abstract ideas seem unworkable (to me anyway). In some cases Yates clearly misunderstands what the memory texts are saying, in others she disparages some of the fundamental techniques and ideas because she does not realise that they are effective.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 28 February 2012
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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on 27 March 2015
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