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Moonwalking with Einstein

The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
Written by: Joshua Foer
Narrated by: Mike Chamberlain
Length: 9 hrs and 31 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (66 ratings)

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Audible Editor Reviews

Your body may be a temple, but your mind, memory experts say, is a palace, or should be, to master remembering. The Memory Palace is one of the notions that Joshua Foer explores in Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, his entertaining and enlightening account of competing in the U.S. Memory Championships.

Narrated by Mike Chamberlain, who genuinely conveys the author’s nerdy and playful persona, Moonwalking began in 2005 when Foer, a 20-something fledging journalist living in his parents’ basement, covered the New York-based championships and met Ed Cooke, a memory Grand Master and delightfully eccentric brainiac. Cooke convinced Foer to become a contender in the contest, becoming his guru and guide over his year of training. In addition, Foer broadened his training by meeting with memory experts and athletes like Cooke’s European colleagues, who, Foer says, make their American counterparts seem like Jamaican bobsledders in the Olympics. While Chamberlain’s curiously random use of accents is a minor distraction, his interpretation of the group’s pub games — getting and memorizing women’s phone numbers and stealing kisses against the clock — is plenty funny.

Foer focuses first on the construction basics of The Memory Palace, a technique derived from the ancient Greek poet Simonides that takes advantage of the mind’s visual and spatial bent. A physical structure, a childhood home say, is selected from memory and filled, room by room, with the numbers, names, concepts, etc., to be memorized. One has to prepare the items previously, however, by charging them with the most vivid, better yet, erotic and bizarre personal associations possible. Using the PAO (Person Action Object) technique, one can also consolidate and compound the associations, thus producing a moonwalking Einstein, not to mention, Foer writes, the “indecent acts my own grandmother had to commit in the service of my remembering the eight of hearts”. It’s a nutty business inside and out, which Chamberlain as Foer conveys drily, none more so than when, working at his desk in anti-distraction earmuffs and goggles, he looks up to find his father staring at him.

While the narrative follows the calendar leading up to the competition, relevant digressions include looks at the clinical and other literature about mnemonists, plus visits with living examples. Tony Bouzon, a memory entrepreneur; ‘savants’ like 'Rainman' Kim Peek and 'pi' reciter Daniel Tammet; and memory researchers are interviewed, which raises issues and controversies related to autism, intelligence, and photographic memory. We also grasp more of the reality of those who suffer from remembering too much or too little. Foer additionally spends time exploring cultural questions of memory and memorizing; once considered a sign of nobility, what will be its fate in our infinite, digitally preserved age?

The idea of actually “moonwalking with Einstein” encapsulates wonder and delight at the boundaries of knowledge; so does Foer’s memorable book. —Elly Schull Meeks

Publisher's Summary

Foer's unlikely journey from chronically forgetful science journalist to U.S. Memory Champion frames a revelatory exploration of the vast, hidden impact of memory on every aspect of our lives.

On average, people squander 40 days annually compensating for things they've forgotten. Joshua Foer used to be one of those people. But after a year of memory training, he found himself in the finals of the U.S. Memory Championship. Even more important, Foer found a vital truth we too often forget: In every way that matters, we are the sum of our memories.

Moonwalking with Einstein draws on cutting-edge research, a surprising cultural history of memory, and venerable tricks of the mentalist's trade to transform our understanding of human remembering. Under the tutelage of top "mental athletes", he learns ancient techniques once employed by Cicero to memorize his speeches and by Medieval scholars to memorize entire books. Using methods that have been largely forgotten, Foer discovers that we can all dramatically improve our memories.

Immersing himself obsessively in a quirky subculture of competitive memorizers, Foer learns to apply techniques that call on imagination as much as determination - showing that memorization can be anything but rote. From the PAO system, which converts numbers into lurid images, to the memory palace, in which memories are stored in the rooms of imaginary structures, Foer's experience shows that the World Memory Championships are less a test of memory than of perseverance and creativity.

At a time when electronic devices have all but rendered our individual memories obsolete, Foer's bid to resurrect the forgotten art of remembering becomes an urgent quest. Moonwalking with Einstein brings Joshua Foer to the apex of the U.S. Memory Championship and readers to a profound appreciation of a gift we all possess but that too often slips our minds.

©2011 Joshua Foer (P)2011 Penguin

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Good book

It was an intersting personal story/personal journey, coupled with lots of interesting information relative to the storyline. Also, kept light with a bit of comedy inserted here and there. Interesting and performed well start to finish.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

An inspirational must read of mnemonics....

It's just as Bill Gates said, this book is an: "absolutely phenomenal story" - a definite must read for those embarking on the journey of learning about one of the world's most preciously hidden treasures: mnemonics. Not only is it an amazing introduction into such a field of study, it also leaves one to ponder about learning about just how one's own brain functions, and the sheer extent of their own skillset - and how they could manage to actually improve it. These are things that just about anyone has the ability to uncover; a crude conclusion one can jump to, from to hearing the author's perspective on such aspects of himself.

From going over the origins of some of the most prominently used mnemonic techniques, to showcasing several case studies of unique individuals with differential conditions/states of minds, each compared to one another to outline such varying magnitudes and spectrums various human brains, to the tale of how the author managed to accomplish the astounding feat of breaking the fastest time to memorize a deck of a cards for the American Memory World Championships, Joshua Foer's inspirational tale is described from his recollection of the training, experience, and research he went through from his journey diving into the prodigious realm of mnemonics.

I certainly enjoyed each and every moment I've listened to such an audiobook, and I highly recommend this to anyone and everyone!

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

It's more than I taught

I started the book thinking that I would find tricks to improve my memory. I found them. But I also loved the way the author remembered us why memory makes us humans. Great book.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

A good story

An exhaustive look into the life and mind of memory champions. You will take out of this book a better understanding of mnemonic techniques.
Do not read this book hoping to improve your memory directly, it is not its purpose.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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I really enjoyed this book

Very interesting story and it made me eager to try out memory techniques. I would have liked more details on how to practise the techniques but I realize this is outside the scope. The performance and story were great. #Audible1

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • tox
  • 2018-07-11

Garlic. Cheese. Fish. Wine

I have to admit that i enjoyed this book, its geeky, straight forward, casual and funny at times, it gets a gentle nod and smile from me

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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Christopher
  • Cape Coral, FL, United States
  • 2011-03-17

Got the Ball Rolling

One thing I would like to point out in this review is that about two hours in I also said to myself... this book is a snoozer... but, if you can hang in there, it does get VERY informative. I actually was able to gather alot of things that I can do to get my memory going in the right direction. I am actually suprised that the two reviews before me say they weren't able to gather any tips from this book. ... among many more a couple of these tips include: How to use a memory palace (I know that sounds funny but, TRUST ME... I am notoriously bad at this stuff and that memory palace thing actually worked!), The Major System (which I havent employed yet but I can see that actually being very easy for remembering numbers), techniques to train your mind to stay out of automation.... or not drop into an autonomous state and therefore basicly fall into a rut... and above all else for me the thing he points out and makes very clear throughout the book is to eat, breathe, smell, taste, touch, and fully ENJOY everything that you want to remember... obviously this last thing I am mentioning was extremely helpful not only for my memory but also for my day to day life... I gotta say, I have been kinda inspired by this book.

76 of 77 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • michael
  • ellicott City, MD, United States
  • 2011-03-13

Interesting Topic, Great Narrator!

This is not a self-help book. It offers a historical view how memory has been applied over hundreds of years and then questions basic assumptions and limitations we commonly accept about our ability to memorize things. After listening, I'm now ready to find a self-help book and attempt to improve my memory with a better understanding of the subject. The book has a lot of humor in it too!

48 of 49 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • sarah
  • san francisco, CA, United States
  • 2011-06-03

Great narration, subject, story-- Loved This

I am not one to write reviews, and when I do they are usually to highlight what is wrong with a book. However, I can't say enough good things about this book. The writing is really funny and well done. The author seamlessly weaves between understanding of memory and cognition and the amazingly entertaining storyline of him being coached to enter the US Memory Championships-- challenging "mental athletes'" claim that "anyone can do this". The book blew my mind. Part anthropology, part brain science, part Toad's Wild Ride, I could easily listen to this book again just for the sheer pleasure. You won't be disappointed with this.

17 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Michael
  • NAPERVILLE, IL, United States
  • 2011-03-29

Historically proven methods that work

I love his style of writing...fun and chatty. Nice introductory chapters and a technique I learned while listening on the train (for half an hour) that allowed me to come home and impress my kids by having them write down a 50-digit number and then me recalling it digit-by-digit in order for them after studying it for 10 minutes.

I never thought about it before, but the book points out that before pen and paper, anything that needed to be preserved had to be memorized. That is why so many of the techniques mentioned in the book are from antiquity and continue to stand the test of time.

The mind likes sequential memories. Memories that are stored as part of a story that are made as multi-sensorial in the mind as possible are easily recalled. After finishing the book and applying some of the techniques, I can attest to the fact that my mind does operate in this fashion. Once a memory association is started vast amounts of information can be easily stored and retrieved. It is like knocking over the first domino in a series. They just lead into the next thought, which leads into the next. I was amazed how effortless it becomes once you get going.

The book also chronicles the author???s story of covering both the U.S. and world memory championships as a journalist that ultimately led to his own appearance in the tournament one year later. No spoilers here regarding how he did.

His story, the history of memory, and how to apply some of these memory methods make for an enjoyable book with practical applications in your daily life. I have been inspired to see how big of a memory athlete I too can become. Highly recommend.

35 of 37 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Kevin
  • 2011-05-18

Good Read

As someone who's always been considered to have a pretty bad memory, this idea of this book certainly intrigued me before reading it. It's both an interesting look into the world of competitive memorization, and helpful in understanding more about how memory functions. In terms of trying to improve my memory personally, I've walked away from the book with some insights into how to more memorably associate things that I try to remember so they'll stick. While that's true, don't go into this book expecting to come away with some secret that's going to improve your day-to-day memory instantly - I'm glad I didn't, because that's not the book's intent. The narration is well done, and I enjoyed Foer's style of writing.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • L. Wallach
  • Virginia, USA
  • 2011-03-26

Informative, enlightening, and motivational

As others have said, this isn't a self-help book. Indeed, Foer has a fairly critical view of some of the self-help gurus who promote memory enhancement.

Mostly it is a history and analysis of how human memory has been used from a time before writing to the current age of instant recall via the Internet.

We also get some current science about how memory is handled in the brain and how some unusual individuals have naturally (or in one case unnaturally) acquired either perfect memory or complete lack of long-term memory.

The book is also an autobiography of how Foer attempted, without every having taken up the practice of competitive remembering, to compete in an effort to become a contender in the "sport's" championship.

I'm only about 60% of the way through this book, so the next 40% may change this review, but so far it's been very interesting to me, and I've already toyed with one of the techniques that Foer explains in the book. It worked, but of course I can't see using it extensively nor for everything. As I read this, it seems that there are many techniques, and it's not easy work. Remembering, whether it's wrote in the way most would try without any such techniques, or whether one uses these techniques, is hard work! Some of these techniques, though, also exercise a part of our brain which many of us have turned off, our creativity, and for some, like myself, it does take some doing to get those systems back up and running!

Enhancing ones memory has been touted by some as some kind of way of making one incredibly successful in life, but as I read this, it doesn't seem at all that this is a given, and many of the memory champions are otherwise unremarkable people. But I do think it is one way to "exercise" your brain in different ways, and can provide some definite practical advantages in many situations, it's just not going to make you a completely different person.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Sher from Provo
  • Utah
  • 2012-01-03

I thought it would help my memory

But that was not really the gist of this book. It turned out to be more about the "sport" of competitive memorizing. There are people who compete all over the world in huge competitions to see who can memorize the longest string of digits, who can memorize a group of people's names the most accurately, and so on and so forth. They can train for years, and up to 6 hours a day. If I spent that kind of time on learning to memorize, I would not need to make a shopping list! At least I hope I wouldn't.

The author also follows people who are able to make complicated calculations in their heads, or can know how many toothpicks there are in a pile on the floor without counting them. He looks at savants, such as Kim Peak, the person on whom the character in the movie "Rain Man" is based. I found that all very interesting, and enjoyed hearing about it very much. But the part I liked best was the history of memorizing. I didn't even know there was a history of memorizing, but there is, and it is quite fascinating. It is easy to understand that one of the key components to our humanness, to our ability to relate, invent and progress, hinges on our memories. Without them, we have pretty much lost everything. I learned that when I watched my aunt lose herself in the vicious Alzheimer's disease as it robbed her of her memories and personality.

I also really liked hearing about how far the human ability to memorize can be pushed. It is quite phenomenal what our average human brains are capable of, when we choose to exercise and feed them properly.

This was a good book that was easy to listen to. The narrator is not my all time favorite, but at the same time, he did a very good job. If you are at all interested in learning more about how your memory works, I recommend this book. If you are interested in how to remember where you put your car keys, um, not so much. Aw heck, it's still a good read.

17 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Gena
  • CA, United States
  • 2011-03-21

A good book to share with others

I would echo some of the previous reviews in that, this is a book well worth listening to. The author talked about many facets of memory throughout history. He shared his journey with humor and insight. He looked at, explored and answered many questions we all have regarding memory and how it plays into our everyday lives. Historical, informative, practical and human. Extra points to Mike Chamberlain for an excellent narration.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Jonathan
  • Trumbull, CT, United States
  • 2011-04-09

Only Incredible

Instantly one of my favorite books ever. I'm only writing a review because I was curious to see if anyone possibly could give the book a bad review. Alas, amazingly some did. Of the very few negative reviews I read "boring" and "it didn't teach me to improve my memory". Are you kidding? How can some reviewers possibly not get what this book is about? It''s about the brain, and HOW memory works, and how it can be improved. Its not just another mnemonic technique, its the story of an amazing writer who tackled the subject like no other. Congratulations Joshua on winning the US memory championship, and more importantly, for providing for my family, me and the rest of the world with a road map to the mind that none had ever before written.

22 of 24 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Robert
  • Yamhill, OR, United States
  • 2012-08-03

Unforgetable

I just realized that my last three books had to do with memory: Remembrance of Things Past, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Moonwalking with Einstein (MwE). It was certainly not intentional and the Proust was not really about memory per se, only the title suggests that. But MwE is all about memory.

If you are looking for a self-help book on improving your memory, you might wish to look elsewhere, perhaps something by Tony Buzan who is a very important character in MwE. This is not to suggest that the author does not elucidate many of the techniques used by MAs or Mental Athletes as the memory champions of the world are called. One might think that the individuals who compete at the national and international memory competitions are mentally-gifted or Savants. Not so. In fact, by definition, Savantism, as described in the literature, is that rare condition that, among other aspects of the syndrome, has as a commonality among its holders a prodigious memory that while very deep, is also exceedingly narrow. MAs on the other hand have memories that can, to name only a few, manage and regurgitate ordered lists of hundreds of random numbers, orders of multiple, shuffled decks of cards, poetry never before seen and all in a matter of a few short minutes. While these are but a few examples of the feats these athletes are capable of performing, there really are no limits to the subject materials they are capable of memorizing. And, as in the case of other forms of athletics, these require a similar kind and degree of training and conditioning.

In my studies as an educator, we learned theories about the kinds of student learning that takes place within us and particularly two and the one of which most of us have a particular proclivity for. We, for example, were taught that there are visual- and there are auditory-learners. I did not totally buy into that division and later on came to believe that even auditory learners, upon ‘hearing” the words, translate them into pictures, “seeing” them within their brains and therefore making us all pretty much visual. This is the premise upon which the techniques employed by MAs such as The Memory Palace derive their inspiration. Much to its credit, this is not only a book about the personal stories of some of the most important contemporary memory champs alive today, it is also about how they accomplish their stunning and almost magical feats of mental acumen.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is that its author. 20-something and fledgling author, Joshua Foer, in the process of writing a piece for Discovery Magazine on the U.S. Memory Championships, is convinced to train himself for the competition. He, with no particularly high IQ or Savantist syndrome whatever, does just that and goes on to win. While it gives hope for us mortals on the one hand, the book goes on to describe the incredibly intense training that goes into accomplishing such a feat.

Writing for Discovery, this is not a schlock, tabloid-like look at the subject of memory. Much of what is outlined is taken from cutting-edge research in the fields of psychology and neuroscience. I felt that the book was very well written, easy to understand, edifying and enjoyable. I think that I came to better understand and appreciate how much memory actually defines just who we are... and not necessarily who we are to others, but who we are to ourselves. The book was very well narrated and was everything a book should be and I give it five stars all the way around.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful