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on 15 April 2011
Our memory skills, just like our food cravings for fat and sugar, were better suited to our days as hunter gatherers, according to Joshua Foer in Moonwalking with Einstein. Back then, what our ancestors needed to remember was where to find food, what plants are poisonous, and how to get home. This makes us great at remembering visual imagery, and not so good at remembering multiple passwords, numerous phone numbers or detailed verbal instructions.

The trick to memory techniques is changing the tedious data you want to remember into something so flamboyant and sensational that you can't forget it. It works. With the help of images like the three Petticoat Junction sisters hula hooping in my living room I can still remember the fifteen item "to do" list Foer's memory coach used as an example more than a week after I read that section of the book.

Moonwalking with Einstein is part a history of mnemonic practices beginning long before the advent of writing, part a cursory introduction to some memory tricks including the memory palace, and part a chronicle of the year or so Foer spent developing his memory skills in preparation for the U.S. Memory Championship--this aspect of the book reminded me of Word Freak, a Scrabble championship account by Stefan Fatsis. Foer also covers the phenomenon of savants, what techniques you can use to push yourself past being just okay at any given skill and how memorizing can help you be more aware and maybe even a little wiser. Unfortunately, even after all his training Foer reports that he still sometimes misplaces his keys. This is an absorbing and entertaining book.
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VINE VOICEon 22 October 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
So this book is neither a 'how to' manual, nor a history of memorization, nor a biography of the winner of the American Memory Championship, nor a clinical investigation into the working of the brain. It is, however, a mixture of all four--and this is where its strength or weakness lies, depending on what you were looking for.

I found it a really interesting mix - with enough information, examples, stories, interviews, history and storyline to keep me reading. Foer ranges through the history of memorization and reading, to meetings with people with all sorts of memory anomalies--those who remembered everything, or nothing, or who claimed to remember everything--to his own expereices of trying to improve his memory. I enjoyed the insights into how we remember and I even got round to putting some of it into practice to help me remember my bank login details. Ironically I highlighted other bits so that I could find them easily in the future - to save me having to remember them. I also enjoyed the insights into how we read, now much more extensively than intensively, and wondered whether I should change my reading style to read more intensively.

Whilst some of the techniques are nifty and smart for remembering things like bank login details, I did wonder what precisely is the practical use of much of the more advanced methods. As someone who speaks publicly for a living a could see little use in the techniques in my field. This of course takes nothing away from the book, although had the book simply been about techniques it would have done.

One feature I did like were the end-notes - allowing the reader to pursue their own lines of inquiry if they wished.

In some ways the style of the book is a little bit like Bill Bryson's works--not as thorough as a purist might like, but sufficient detail, interesting anecdotes and variety of information for an inquisitive tourist of the subject.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I've dipped into a few 'how-to' memory books in the past, primarily those of Dominic O'Brien &Tony Buzan, the "self-styled guru" (according to Foer) who pretty much started the 'improve your mind' branch of the self-help industry. These were useful guides consisting of surprisingly simple but effective techniques, usually (particularly in Buzan's case) fleshed out with waffle to make them book-length. But I always wanted to know more about the men behind them - what sort of person is motivated to try to remember several thousand books word-for-word, or would want to spend several hours memorising & reciting lists of thousands of numbers? Surely that must take someone incredibly eccentric with rather a unique perspective?

Thanks to Foer, I now know. Originally a journalist writing about a memory event, he is persuaded by Buzan to enter the US Memory Championship & put these techniques to the test. This he does, despite his initial reservation that these 'mind olympics' are hardly as captivating as the athletic version. Watching people sitting still in a silent room for several hours is not exactly the most exciting spectator sport. Yet Foer is keen to work out whether these techniques actually work or whether memory gurus are just gifted savants.

This books' title - 'Moonwalking with Einstein' - is an example of one memory technique, associating a word or number with an amusing image to make it easier to recall. Foer also provides a surprisingly interesting summary of the history of such techniques, which apparently date back to the Ancient Greeks but became increasingly out of fashion once the printing press & computers made information storage easier & more accurate. In this way, a brief overview of memory methods is provided. While this book is not intended as a self-help guide, there's probably enough info here to have a go - as I say, a lot of the how-to books seem to mostly consist of padding anyway.

Overall, this is a lighthearted insight into a strange yet fascinating world. Foer fleshes it out in an amusing, readable way, although is perhaps a little judgemental at times. A unique & interesting read.
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on 20 October 2011
This is not a bad book but it is certainly not a book about how to improve your memory. I feel the i will now nee to go find another , such as a Buzan book, to learn the techniques that he talks of . For example he mentions the Major System and the basics of how it works but not the details. I had to google it to find out the standard number to letter mapping. This book is more of a autobiography than a book that will help you improve your memory. Again from reading it you might get the general concept of how the techniques work but no detail which left me confused and a little annoyed. I think the title is a bit sensationalist. Something like "Moonwalking with Einstein: My journey to becoming a memory champ" would be more realistic
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on 19 September 2013
I read some of the comments here.. It's really funny, because this book was perfect for me.. I did NOT want to hear another memory technique because I already read a number of books with technique - and they are basically all similar. I loved this book because it was an overview, and in depth overview..
The book is really well written and engaging the whole way throughout.
I learned lots of stuff about memory ..and life in the past.. I would never have done before.. Eg writing in the old days LOOKEDLIKETHISWITHNOSPACESWHICHSEEMSSTRANGE at first but makes sense as in real life, there are not 'pauses' between words, we say all the words together.. a space in writing did not come for century's later.. etc
I also learned about the kind of disclipine it takes to get good at memory..
This book was great for me because I wanted to know 'shall I study memory or not' and I got some answers about what the process is like.
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VINE VOICEon 28 November 2012
I really enjoyed this book, devouring it in just a few sittings.
Ostensibly, it tells the story of how the author, covering the US memory championships, takes up the challenge to enter them himself and compete the following year.
But along the way the book is an overview of what we know, or think we know, about the way the brain works and how we remember (or fail to remember) stuff. Several common methods of memorisation are outlined - but note this isn't a "how to" book - as is the concept and use of memorisation itself. In a world where we don't have to remember anything - phone numbers, historical facts, the background to current events - because it's all there on devices we carry around, do we need to remember things at all?
The book will appeal if you like a good yarn, or your interested in psychology or education. It is entertaining, informative and at times pretty funny, and the end is quite emotional.
One of the people the author spends a lot of time with is Ed Cooke, who has since written the book "Remember, Remember..." which I bought and started straight after this. Within half an hour I could remember the names of all the Anglo-Saxon kings of England. Is that useful? No. But it's impressive (although I'm having trouble convincing friends and colleagues). More importantly, the method itself is very useful and I've employed it for other things since.
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on 5 July 2013
I bought this book as it was recommended by a colleague as a tool to improving my memory so was quite disappointed that it is just a meander through how the author(?) improved his memory... shows how interesting it was that I can't remember! Also, I didn't finish the book because I got bored.
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VINE VOICEon 10 February 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I really wanted to give this book 5 stars and was all set to before I picked it up again to review the novel and took a moment to glance over the front and back covers where numerous mentions are made of how this book can help you improve your memory... Which really got my goat as this book isn't about helping people to improve their memories (something the authors states a couple of times), instead its a memoir exploring the authors dive into the world of memory competitions that happens to contain a few hints and tips about some of the skills used and the history of human understanding of memory.

Regardless I found the book to be a quick, easy and highly enjoyable read. Mr Foer has a great skill at describing people (many of whom seem more than a bit strange) in an endearing manner that drew me through the book at break neck speed, leaving me feeling slightly robbed because I would have loved to have read more about pretty much everything he covers.

A fascinating book!
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VINE VOICEon 24 January 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Penguin, the publishers, describe this as "science/memoir" - it really is more memoir than science but an intriguing account of a journalist's involvement with the competitive memory world.

As it says quite early on (page 18 actually) it is not meant to be a self-help book but Joshua hopes that the reader will get a sense of how any one can go about training their memory. It is about his involvement in a memory competition in the USA and, being a journalist, some of the people he spoke to including major figures in this world of memory.

A lot of the ideas are not new: it involves visualisation which was common until we started having books to read and to write in about 500 years ago. What we are used to is a relatively recent phenomenon in the life history of mankind and thus he maintains it is possible for anyone to develop their innate memory skills.

Although I detect, on occasions, some bias and I could disagree with some of his observations and deductions, for example chapter ten, I enjoyed the account.

There are chapters on key individuals but interestingly one about a man with such severe amnesia that he could not remember what the last sentence was.

There are notes on the points made, giving sources, a bibliography and an index so it is easy to check it and follow an idea through.

I found it intriguing and a fascinating read - although beware Joshua's memory aids as he gives examples of how me learnt a series of facts or numbers or whatever do seem very individualistic and possibly reveal quite a bit about the man himself!
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on 25 September 2012
I bought the book and was enthused and entertained about human memory and how from having an ordinary memory, Joshua learned techniques that would enable him to do previously impossible tasks, such as remembering the order of a shuffled deck in less than 3 minutes. Along the way, you'll meet a man who remembered everything but could not forget, a man who remembers nothing after a few seconds but can remember everything from 50 years ago.

This lead me to read Remember, Remember: Learn the Stuff You Thought You Never Could by Ed Cooke and you can read my review of it there. Suffice it to say that that book filled in some of the gaps left by this book as to how powerful our memories really are. There are others by Dominic O'Brien and Tony Buzan that I'm studying.

From "Remember, Remember", I can now recite from memory all of the kings and queens of England from Offa to Elizabeth II, all of the US presidents from Washington to Obama and all of the British Prime Ministers from Walpole to Cameron. And I'm 47 years old.

My wife and my 9-year old daughter can do all of the Kings & Queens and the US Presidents. My 4-year-old son can recite the first six kings - so far.

Can anyone do it? I don't see why not. But it requires a willingness to practice because like anything else worth having, practice is the key. Its not instant, but you'll surprise yourself if you persist just a little bit.

Both Joshua and Ed are insistent that photographic memories do not exist, that there are well-practised minds and unpractised minds. Some have more help from their neurophysiology such as people who have synaesthesia, the rest of us do not and its not critical.

There have been a few reviews which gave 1-star because the book does not cover in detail *how* Joshua Foer became American Memory Champion. That's because those people didn't read the book's description nor read the reviews. And probably won't read this one.
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