Moonwalking with Einstein - Joshua Foer

MoonwalkingThis is a witty, beautifully well written exploration of both the art and the science of memory; part diary, part scientific study.

Joshua Foer, a budding journalist reporting on the rather haphazard American Memory Championships, finds himself becoming intrigued by the exploits of a small band of ‘mind athletes’. Annually they test themselves in a series of memory challenges to, for example recall the sequence of packs of cards, random strings of words or numbers and other oddball feats of remembering.

The book charts a year in which Joshua transitions from reporting on the event to learning the secrets of memory techniques to a level where he himself can compete.

The book captures the discoveries and achievements of this year with chapters which alternately serve as a diary and a text book outlining the history of the role, nature and purpose of memory and the efforts of science and art to illuminate and understand this most important of human abilities.

Along the way Joshua explores the medical case histories of nature’s memory superstars and falterers, for example those impaired through accident or illness, and the glimpses they give into the process of memory. The book is full of interesting asides, for example the descriptions of the earliest books, the first means of recording memory outside the mind, gave me new insights into the development of writing. It seems these earliest of books were created almost as music scores detailing the sounds to be made as they were read aloud.

Incidentally the intriguing book title is a reference to one of the memory techniques that Joshua learns in preparation for his attempt at the American memory Championships, a technique that utilises the ability to recall pictures far more effectively than words or numbers.

This book will entertain and educate and no doubt inspire. I highly recommend it.

Steve Unwin
July 2012