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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