Book Review: Moonwalking With Einstein: Joshua Foer

Posted on March 31, 2011

How a science journalist won the US Memory Championships. In a year.

It’s kind of ironic, I forgot that I had read this book when I didn’t write a review Monday. However, you aren’t going to remember everything if you read Moonwalking with Einstein. You will however, learn the tricks and techniques to memorize and recall long series of numbers, things and cards. You’ll still forget your keys. The oven will still get left on.

This book is about  more than that though. This is the story of how Joshua Foer, mild manner journalist, swept himself into the high stakes world of mental athletics.

See, memory is as skill. Your brain is divided up into two halves. On the right side (which governs the left half of your body) you have the creative half. On the left, the rational and ordered set. The trick is to develop a system that matches the visual creativity with an ordered system.

It turns out that by unleashing this capacity in your brain you can store enormous amounts of information. As an example, the current record holder has memorized pi to 67,890 digits. Let me clear, he is not some savant. He’s just some guy that, instead of learning how to play an instrument, got really good at memorizing numbers.

This is a wild ride. Not only will you gain an appreciation for the capacity of your own brain, but you’ll meet a variety of real characters. See, the US Memory championships is just the beginning. Foer regularly travels to the UK to meet some pretty wild guys.

Having an excellent memory has been good to some and not so nice to others. For instance there’s Tony Buzan, who has built himself a multi-million dollar empire teaching people the techniques. Then there’s the ‘journalist S’, who despite having a perfect memory (synaesthesia allowed for him to remember everything) had an awful life.

Then there’s the ultra-elite KL7. Entrance into the secret group means memorizing 45 digits, drink two beers and kiss 3 women. A member of that group turns out to be Foer’s secret weapon; coaching him to his eventual win at the US memory championships.

Moonwalking With Einstein has it all. It has interesting characters. You’ll learn about how to access, further, the capacity of your brain. But most of all, you’ll appreciate the story of how a young man starts as a wannabe journalist and ends up as the best memorizer in our great country.


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