Review of Moonwalking with Einstein

Have you ever stopped to ponder who the world's smartest person is?  Admittedly, the question does not receive the same accolades as who might be the strongest person.

Joshua Foer has written an interesting book about what he discovered when he tried answering the same question.  My review is enclosed.  Comments welcome.

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Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

By Joshua Foer
320 pages, $26.95
ISBN-13: 978-1594202292
Review by Steven King, MBA, MEd

Have you ever wondered who the world’s smartest person is?  In a world that celebrates the antics of the world’s strongest people very little time is given to those who excel in mental pursuits. Such antipathy for mental prowess put Joshua Foer on a quest to find out who might fit the bill of world’s smartest person.  When he began his quest, he did not discover who the smartest person was in the world…rather he was introduced to the world of the mental athletes. 

Foer’s path crossed with the like of memory champions Ben Pridemore, who could memorize gargantuan amounts of numerical digits and the layout of five decks of cards in just a few minutes. Such mental prowess piqued Foer’s curiosity and set the journalist within ablaze to discover all he could about their techniques.  His quest propelled him along a path which would ultimately culminate in his competition in the U.S. Memory Championship.

This trek placed him in the pathway of interesting individuals—such as Britain’s Tony Buzan, an educational consultant who is credited with developing the “mind mapping” technique of taking notes.  After meeting with Buzan, Foer enlisted the help of a youthful United Kingdom memory competitor, Ed Cooke, to coach him and prepare him for the U.S. Memory Championship.  At Ed’s behest, Foer dove into available literature—finding references to mnemonic techniques from around the fifth century BC.  Not wanting to leave any stone unturned, Foer also tracks down Kim Peek, the inspiration for the character in Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Main, to determine if there were any memory techniques he could glean from an obvious savant..

Foer unearthed techniques many refer to as building a memory palace which allowed him to “store” information spatially along routes of which he was familiar.  Want to learn a list of 75 words? No problem. Imagine walking through your house and assigning these words in bizarre contexts (include the most sensory stimulation you can) along the pathway. Suppose the first item is an aardvark…you might place the inconspicuous fellow outside your mailbox juggling the second word you need to remember.  Then, when called upon to regurgitate the list you would simply walk through these pre-constructed locations and recall the mental images. Foer used this very technique to place in key events and ultimately win the 2006 National Memory Championship.  Not only did he win, he set a new U.S. record by memorizing a deck of playing cards in a minute and 40 seconds.

Although the title seems a little bizarre, it is not until you are reading his blow-by-blow account of the championship that you realize that one of his “mental images,” was Foer moonwalking with Einstein to help remember a playing card.  After the championship, Foer settled back into journalism and is not sure that his overall memory was changed very much. 

This book is commended as a good read of an interesting memory challenge.

But wait, where did I put my car keys?


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