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The Woman Who Can't Forget: The Extraordinary Story of Living with the Most Remarkable Memory Known to Science [Audio CD]

Jill Price , Bart Davis , Celeste Ciulla
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: CDN$ 32.91 & FREE Shipping. Details
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Book Description

May 1 2008
Jill Price has the first diagnosed case of a memory condition called "hyperthymestic syndrome" -- the continuous, automatic, autobiographical recall of every day of her life since she was fourteen. Give her any date from that year on, and she can almost instantly tell you what day of the week it was, what she did on that day, and any major world event or cultural happening that took place, as long as she heard about it that day. Her memories are like scenes from home movies, constantly playing in her head, backward and forward, through the years; not only does she make no effort to call her memories to mind, she cannot stop them.

The Woman Who Can't Forget is the beautifully written and moving story of Jill's quest to come to terms with her extraordinary memory, living with a condition that no one understood, including her, until the scientific team who studied her finally charted the extraordinary terrain of her abilities. Her fascinating journey speaks volumes about the delicate dance of remembering and forgetting in all of our lives and the many mysteries about how our memories shape us.

As we learn of Jill's struggles first to realize how unusual her memory is and then to contend, as she grows up, with the unique challenges of not being able to forget -- remembering both the good times and the bad, the joyous and the devastating, in such vivid and insistent detail -- the way her memory works is contrasted to a wealth of discoveries about the workings of normal human memory and normal human forgetting. Intriguing light is shed on the vital role of what's called "motivated forgetting"; as well as theories about childhood amnesia, the loss of memory for the first two to three years of our lives; the emotional content of memories; and the way in which autobiographical memories are normally crafted into an ever-evolving and empowering life story.

Would we want to remember so much more of our lives if we could? Which memories do our minds privilege over others? Do we truly relive the times we remember most vividly, feeling the emotions that coursed through us then? Why do we forget so much, and in what ways do the workings of memory tailor the reality of what's actually happened to us in our lives?

In The Woman Who Can't Forget, Jill Price welcomes us into her remarkable life and takes us on a mind-opening voyage into what life would be like if we didn't forget -- a voyage after which no reader will think of the magical role of memory in our lives in the same way again.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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From Publishers Weekly

Price has been known to scientists only as AJ, a woman with a memory so unprecedented they had to coin a term for it: hyperthymestic syndrome.With this book, she is coming out publicly for the first time to discuss her condition. Not only is Price powerless to stop remembering, but each memory brings with it an emotion every bit as potent as it was the first day I had it. That means constantly reliving not just the good times—hanging out at the Ed Sullivan Show with her father, a William Morris agent, or having her cheeks pinched by Milton Berle—but the painful times as well. Tormented by her total recall, at age 34 Price contacted memory expert James McGaugh and finally began the process of controlling her memory. Not all the details of Price's life are so compelling, but her insights into the nature of memory, forgetting and the formation of our sense of self will resonate with a wide audience. Appearances on 20/20 May 9 and Good Morning America May 12.(May 6)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"The Woman Who Can't Forget is fascinating, whether dealing with the details of Price's life or with the science of the brain, offering glimpses not only into the mysteries of memory but into emotional struggles like depression, anger, forgiveness and even growing up." -- BookPage.com


"[Price's] insights into the nature of memory, forgetting and the formation of our sense of self will resonate with a wide audience." -- Publishers Weekly


"Price has a knack for vividly rendering childhood memories like scenes from an impressionistic film." -- Kirkus Reviews
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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3.0 out of 5 stars Remembered, But Not Memorable Feb. 19 2013
By John M. Ford TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
Jill Price, with the help of coauthor Bart Davis, tells the story of her life with "hyperthymestic syndrome." She has unusually vivid and complete autobiographical memories, a mixed blessing as she explains at length.

The book tells three inter-related stories. Readers learn in passing what research has to say about both normal cognitive processes and the unusual abilities Jill possesses. We also learn about Jill's life and the impact her memory has on her and her friends and family. The view of memory presented in the book is accessible and an accurate account of what most cognitive scientists believe about human abilities. This embedded tutorial makes the book useful and interesting to psychology students learning about memory. When it comes to the specifics of Jill's own condition, readers are cautioned to remember that she tells it from an autobiographical rather than clinical perspective. More professionally-focused accounts of her case are available--some by internet search.

The story of Jill's life is not terribly interesting as autobiography. But it does provide a backdrop for the more interesting accounts of her memory's impact on her and others. One can imagine the lessons in tact learned by a little girl who is able to correct her parents' recollections. Her descriptions of how she visualizes calendars and timelines are fascinating--and clearly not how the rest of us remember. Most striking are her revelations about the role emotions play in her memories. She continues to feel strong emotions from childhood disappointments and adult traumas that have been softened by time for the rest of us.

This book captures well the advantages and human cost of near-perfect memory--something many of us would like to have.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A regular person living with an unique condition. July 12 2009
Format:Paperback
Wow, what an interesting condition to have! As you read, you begin to sense, at times, what it must be like to live with hyperthymestic syndrome (aka steal trap memory ;-)). Still, I wonder how much objectivity she has over her memory. She suggests she does, but I remain skeptical.

The book is rather repetitive at times. I found myself saying "I get it, already!" though I wonder if anyone really can appreciate how it is to live life in her shoes. I was, however, hoping for a more clinical approach to her story, I guess. Something a little more (academically) insightful. I enjoyed most the passages where she is talking about her memory in reference to the 'norm'; how the experts classify or explain her situation. I would have liked to learn more about the gamut of tests she has to take and what they were measuring/comparing and how it all worked.

Yet for these downfalls, still, if you persevere her life story is rather touching at the end; when she finds love.

I'm not a big biography/memoir person, but this is a fast read about a regular person with an unique condition as she makes her way through life the best she can.

I enjoyed the book, but wouldn't put it on any top 10 lists.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars  33 reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ever Wished for A Perfect Recall of Names, Faces or Events? Maybe That Wouldn't be Such a Great Thing... May 11 2008
By K. Corn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a fascinating glimpse into the world of a person who has a perfect memory. If you feel the slightest bit skeptical about this, Jill Price was put through intensive testing, along with several other people. Not only could she recall exact dates but the tiniest bits of info about what happened on those days, including what amounted to her entire life, way beyond the norms of human memory. She'd also kept a diary for years.

Other people were also tested and diagnosed with this special, probably rare, condition...and this is what makes this book so interesting. Even though Jill Price isn't the only person known to have "perfect recall or memory", her personality is unique. She tends to see her inability to forget as a curse as much as a blessing, one that often haunts and torments her.

I'd read books about other people with a similar condition but they were autistic, sometimes called idiot savants, and often lacked basic skills that were considered normal. Jill Price was the first person who seems normal in many ways but also has this extraordinary memory. I couldn't help wanting to know how a child copes with this and grows up being so different from those around her. This book was a fascinating biography as well as illuminating about the mysteries of memory, recall and the advantages of those with average abilities to remember things. Until I read this book, I often rued my inability to remember a person's name, face or a particular movie title. I've changed my perspective.

Sometimes being able to forget can be a blessing.
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but VERY incomplete story on hypermemory, mental/mental health issues of MD's reporrt ignored Oct. 4 2008
By S. J. Snyder - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I'm perhaps being a little more generous than some of the two-star reviewers. I did find information about her timeline and some other things interesting, but, contra her own accounts, I don't think her obsessive journaling necessarily has anything to do with her hypermemory. Certainly, it's not a direct part of her hypermemory, or the more technical, hyperthymesia.

Now, might it be part of an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder? Certainly. There's other facets of her life, that if you connect the dots, could one wonder, at least, whether Price doesn't have OCD and/or other mental health issues.

But, she and coauthor Bart Davis don't talk about that.

Nor do they talk about the report of the UCI medical and neurological professionals. After all, Price herself wonders if her hypermemory isn't connected to how she has dealt with her childhood.

Nor does she mention that she has taken Prozac and Zoloft as high as 200mg/day, and that she reported having numerous phobias, including phobias about medical professionals, to McGaugh et al. Or having hit her head at age 8.

Given the studies ongoing of links between PTSD and memory, and the fact that the Neurocase study is readily available on the Internet, it's chintzy at the least to not have discussed these issues in the book.

Available here in full: [...]%22A+Case+of+Unusual+Autobiographical+Remembering%22&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us&client=firefox-a

The full study also mentions some other mental functioning diagnoses; some linguistic problems, including word list problems (hence her memory problems) is one; perseveration is another, and it's linked to brain trauma. Interestingly, Price doesn't mention having had a head injury at age 8, as documented in the professional study, and which is about the time her memory started ramping up.

It's time to quote from that report:

"AJ may have a variant of a neurodevelopmental, fronto-
striatal disorder putting her at risk for her hyperthymestic syn-
drome. Deficits in executive functioning and anomalous lateral-
ization are both found in neurodevelopmental frontostriatal
disorders which include autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder
(OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Tourette's syn-
drome and schizophrenia."

I write none of this to put her down or beat her up, but, as I suspected at the start of this review (written before I Googled the Neurocase report), there's more behind the scenes than just a world-record autobiographical memory.

Finally, re her memory itself, and without diminishing her incredible autobiographical memory, it should be noted that she is, in some types of specific episodic memory, nothing better than normal.

In short, we didn't get anywhere near the full Jill Price in this book. And, nobody forced her to write anything at all in the first place so, sorry, it doesn't deserve more than two stars.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I won't forget this book! May 9 2008
By Shannon L. Yarbrough - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
We all have days we wish we could forget. If we think back, I'm sure we also have memories that have escaped us from long ago which we wish we could remember.

Jill Price is a unique person, the first, who can honestly say she can't forget a single day, and has little or no problem with those memories the rest of us cling to.

Jill has a memory condition called "hyperthymestic syndrome" and believe it or not she can recall headlines, deaths, birthdays, holidays, tragedies, worldwide news, and even her own everyday activities from every single day of her life since she was just 14 years old.

In a recent interview with Diane Sawyer, Jill gave the dates and days of the week certain events happened that Diane called out at random from the death of Elvis to the date of Reagan's first inauguration. She is not always 100% right, but is usually not off by more than 7 days. Imagine being able to recall every single Christmas you've experienced, and all from memory.

Jill's story is extraordinary. As you read her memoir, you'll ask yourself, "is this a curse or a blessing?" Is it a gift you'd want to be blessed with? Jill has adjusted well to it. Her life has been unique. She has loved and lost. Scientists have studied her, but through it all she has learned to cope and adapt to this bizarre wonder.

You will be touched by her words, and you certainly won't forget them!
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating mind, an interesting life...but I suspect there's more to the story Oct. 29 2008
By Nancy S. West - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"Time heals all wounds." "This too shall pass." "Give it time." "Someday we'll look back on this and laugh." Our most fundamental beliefs about emotional healing are based on the idea that memories dull as time passes. Just as shards of broken glass can cut deeply when new but, if tossed in the surf, eventually become smooth and beautifully textured, our memories, as they age, become buffered. The kernel of the story may remain, but the glass-sharp edges of emotion associated with the event dull over time.

Which is a good thing, because imagine for a moment the mental chaos if they didn't. Well, that's the story of Jill Price, the real-life Woman Who Can't Forget. With a memory so unusual in its form and function that the neurologists who documented her situation made up a new name for it, hyperthemestic syndrome, Jill Price remembers everything that has happened to her since childhood with the clarity of seeing it unfold on a movie screen. Day after day. All the time.

The memory center of Jill Price's brain is wired differently from most of us, with aberrations that actually show up on brain scans. Her memory type is specific: she isn't like Rain Man, remembering sequences of numbers or bits of trivia. What she remembers is events from her own life, or events of public importance inasmuch as they dovetailed with her own life. You probably remember exactly what you were doing the moment you heard that two planes had hit the World Trade Center or that a government building had exploded in Oklahoma City - or, depending on your age, that the space shuttle Challenger had exploded or that President Kennedy had been shot. Similarly, you probably have crystal clear recall of the moment you found out that one of your family members had a terminal illness, or that you were pregnant with twins, or that you had gotten accepted into your first-choice college. For Jill Price, every moment event is just as memorable as three or four of the most significant moments in our lives are to the rest of us.

The book is both a scientific exploration of the phenomenon and a memoir. Price quotes from the research papers written about her and explains the scientific theories that were formed based on her case, but she also talks extensively about what it's like to live like this. Price's life would make a fairly interesting memoir even without the hyperthemetic syndrome. Her father was a rising executive in the entertainment industry: the family lived first in Manhattan, then in suburban New Jersey, and then in California, where visiting Dad at work meant playing on the soundstage of The Waltons. Price was born one year before I was, so her cultural references are the same as mine, and it's fun reading about iconic 1970s moments such as the time she turned a corner at her father's agency and ran into David Cassidy.

Price has been making the talk show rounds; not being a talk show viewer, I've missed her appearances, and I have some questions that seeing the interviews might have answered. Some of her oddities, in my opinion, can't quite be explained by the memory thing. For example, although she admits to having always had intense separation issues, that doesn't quite go far enough to explain why at the age of 36 she still lived with her parents. As a child, she always hated moving - something that traumatized her in her childhood, first when the family left New York City for New Jersey and then when they headed out to Los Angeles - but it's still a little strange when in her 30's she gets frantic at the thought of her parents selling their house - because it's where she still lives. She never really addresses the subject of whether anyone thinks maybe it's time for the nearly middle-aged woman to find her own apartment. In fact, when her parents do sell their house and downsize, she moves with them - and eventually her husband and stepchildren end up moving in with her parents as well. There is more I'd like to know about this woman than how her memory works.

This is a thought-provoking book, and during the two weeks or so I was reading it (I'm a slow reader), I found my own generally sharp memory getting even more acute. For example, while falling asleep one night, I had an image of my grandmother reaching for a particular glass in her kitchen, and suddenly woke with a jolt, realizing neither the house nor my grandmother was still present in my life. For a few seconds, I missed that earlier time terribly. As I said, I've always had a good memory, but not like Jill Price. And having read her memoir, I'm convinced that's a fortunate thing.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Interesting topic, horrible book July 15 2010
By Serge E. Riou - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I feel for this woman but this memoir is a failure on so many levels. It is so bizarrely repetitive for a book on a women with amazing memory. She also has many many other problems which are not really addressed in the book as other reviewers have noted.

The review section is also filled with questionable "rave" reviews. How much can you trust a review that says she "can remember every moment of her life" when the book repeats so many times that her memory is only complete after a certain year (still amazing).
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