Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Review: Moonwalking with Einstein by Josh Foer

Journalist Josh Foer went to the U.S. Memory Championships to cover the event and write an article about it. But after meeting the competitors and learning more about what they do, Foer decided to train for the next year's championship. He won.

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything is Foer's memoir of that year. He takes us with him as he learns to hone his memory skills in such a way that he can memorize a deck of cards, or sets of faces and names, or long strings of random numbers, or unknown poems ~ each in just a few minutes. He does this by using memory palaces, which are basically places in his mind (usually houses and other buildings) into which he places each of the items he needs to remember. Then he can walk through that palace in his mind, and see everything on the list.

This isn't a how-to book, though. All of the negative reviews I've seen about this book are from people who go into it thinking they're going to learn how to remember better. It's not going to happen. While I expect I could memorize a short grocery list using the technique he outlines ~ and asks the reader to try with him ~ that's probably about it. This is a memoir of his experience, not a self-help book that is going to help you improve your memory.

In addition to telling about his training and all the quirky people he interacted with during that time, Foer also gives some amazing stories of people who have extraordinary natural memory, and others with extreme amnesia. He talks of the history of memory training, and the current lack of education about memory in today's schools.

If you are interested at all in the art of memory through the ages, how people in the past were able to memorize all the stories, songs and poems because there was no written language, and how memory training has evolved over the years, as books and later technology took over the remembering for us, I highly recommend Moonwalking with Einstein. I found it to be a fascinating look at how memory works.

My Rating: 5/5

Watch the author's TED talk:

This review was written based on an ebook copy of Moonwalking with Einstein that I purchased.


  1. I saw a book recently that I think uses the same technique you talk about here. The author envisioned a house and he went room by room and remembered the rug meant this and the table meant this and the door meant this, etc. Sounds fascinating!

  2. This was one of those books I meant to pick up last year and didn't. Thanks for the review, I will try to fit that one in this year!


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