Moonwalking with Einstein – The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer
(I strike again!)
The title of this book is just too bizarre to ignore. Rightfully so, because this book describes a very odd yet powerful technique to “remembering everything”. That is an overstatement, but you can surely remember a lot more things than you usually do with the technique in this book.
Joshua Foer, the author, is a journalist who dived into the mysterious world of memory techniques after covering a “Memory Championship”, an event where competitors must carry out insane feats like memorizing the order of a deck of cards or a page of random numbers. In one year of training under the guidance of some of the competitors in the championship, the author managed to win first place in the US Memory Championship. An amazing tale of zero to hero. And apparently, any regular person can do it, no super-genes required!
The Memory Palace
How did he do it? That is the underlying theme of this book. The unusual “Memory Palace” mnemonic technique. Something very different than the rote memorization we’re all used to (where you just repeat things and hammer them into your brain). I’ll try to explain this concisely, and leave the details to the book. Simply put, you imagine a place you are very familiar with, such as your house, and fill it with what you want to remember. However, the trick is you have to be very creative when filling your memory palace. Every item you want to remember must engage a lot of your senses. The stranger the image is, the better. Obvious example: the title of the book.
Does it work? Surprisingly, yes. In one of the chapters, the author invites the reader to memorize his coach’s weird 15-item to-do list using their own memory palace and imagery. I read that chapter more than two weeks ago. I still remember that list…
Pickled garlic, cottage cheese, salmon, six bottles of wine, three pairs of socks, three hula hoops, a snorkeling mask, a dry-ice smoke machine, send an e-mail to Sophia, a cat suit (yes), something to do with Paul Newman (a book, movie?), elk-sausage, a director’s chair + megaphone, ropes + harnesses, and a barometer. 15 items, I wrote that from memory, you’ll have to take my word for it :P
I just imagined my building, the stairs going up to my floor, and my house. I placed the items on the entrances to my neighbours’ homes, staircases, and inside my house. Imagery? The weirder the better: a cat in a suit, high-fiving a diver coming down the stairs, an elk with sausages dangling from its antlers, etc.
The technique is really useful. I’ve started applying it in my studies, for those impossible chapters which can only be defeated by memorizing. It takes some effort, but it makes studying those chapters much more fun :)
This book is not simply an exercise book about memory palaces. It also covers the history of memory techniques, the latest scientific research in the field, the author’s path to winning the US Memory Championship, and the memory techniques he used to get there. All wrapped in one funnily titled book.
Practical, interesting, fun, and light. Highly recommended.