Who knew that there were international memory championships and that reading about them could be so interesting? In Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, author Joshua Foer writes about how he went from being an internet journalist assigned to cover this event to becoming a competitor in one, one year later. This is one of the most interesting accounts of participatory journalism ever told. But the book is much much more than this. In between the continuing tale of how the author first becomes exposed to this unique competition, how he befriends several of the competitors, is seen as a curious annoyance to others, how he is mentored and trained, how he actually trains for the competition, culminating in his competing in the American Memory Championships, Foer weaves in many pieces of interesting information. These include the techniques actually used to improve memory and to memorize vast chunks of information, a user-friendly explanation of the physiology and neurology of memory, the history of mnemonics beginning with the Greek Poet Simonedes of Ceos (who, according to legend, was able to recall the names and seating plan for all the attendees of a banquet hall suffering a roof collapse), the difference between remembering words and remembering images, profiles of those who have exploited memory techniques for personal gain and those who haven't, a wonderful discussion about the place of memorization in education, a profile of an inner city school utilizing memorization to improve the performance of its students, as well as interviews with some of the interesting personalities in the world of memory. These include an expert on experts, a memory self-help guru who becomes a multimillionaire, a victim of brain surgery gone wrong who becomes a man unable to retain memory, a supposed savant whose authenticity is severely challenged by the author and an autistic man who is the inspiration for the movie "Rain Man". We also meet some of Foer's fellow competitors, some of whom become his good friends. They are a likeable rag tag group of underachievers.
The book does not purport to be a "how to" memory guide, and yet Foer sneakily and skillfully teaches the reader about "memory palaces" and leads us through an exercise of remembering someone else's fifteen item to-do list. I am amazed that I am still able to retain the list of 15 items long after reading this chapter, even though I still don't know what some of the items on the list are.
This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. It is both brilliant, entertaining, informative and retains the reader's interest and attention. I highly recommend this book for everyone.