Book Review: Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

Growing up, I prided myself on my ability to remember dates and past events that I promised myself I would never forget. I kept a journal, a diary and then when I perceived writing as a frivolous pastime I simplified my daily ramblings to the 1.5” square on my yearly themed calendar. I keep all the past year’s calendars in a box at my mom’s house and I often look back recalling a specific date, bring up a specific memory. I have done this casually since I was 12.

And then, last summer, as I was acting like a lady getting my nails done, I picked up the latest issue of Discovery Magazine and I opened it to a review of Joshua Foer’s, “Moonwalking with Einstein”. Immediately, my science taste buds were tickled and I promise myself I would remember to read it one day. That day came mid December – a present from my brother.  It was a darker time, when the candle of my love for journalism was slowly burning out. I sought refuge in Foer’s words and experiences as a freelance science journalist who also fancied the memory, and that’s when I learned that what I had been doing with my calendars was ultimately training the specific part of my brain that optimizes my memory limit.

“Moonwalking with Einstein” is investigative journalism at its finest. Foer surrenders himself and his seemingly “normal” memory into the hands of his interviewees turned coaches and one year later, finds himself in the US Memory Championships. The “normal” short term memory can hold seven things at once (accurate to two points), this is where Foer began and by the end he could memorize a freshly shuffled deck of cards in less than two minutes. Everyone Foer talked to about the extent of one’s memory and its relation to one’s IQ, claims, “anyone could do it.” This, is where I became intrigued.

“I’m anyone,” Foer thought, and he proved it true, through constant observation over the entire memory optimization process, bringing us along with him as he describes his transformation from his perspective being sure to stay honest, like a true journalist would.

I worship Foer’s ability to connect with his interviewees, he approaches it cautiously and often asks questions on impulse, but because of his genuine interest and expert-like way of being honest about not knowing anything about memory tests or memory functions, I still sat on the other side wanting to partake in his exploration.

He interviews the best memories in the world and the worst, and somewhere in there he defined what it means to have memories and that we are the sum of all of them bound up in the picture book of our life. He outlines the negative effects humans created when we invented time.

“You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next – and disappear. That’s why it’s important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.”

Now, would I recommend this book? Well, the answer is without any doubt yes, and I knew this before the second chapter. So if you’re a sucker for casual non-fiction writing then I’m sure you’ll appreciate “Moonwalking with Einstein”, and if you ever find yourself daydreaming about the inner workings of one’s thought process or just have a soft side for science, or a curiosity for why you sometimes reach your intended destination but can’t figure out why you’re even there in the first place, then I’d say it’s for you.

Even though Foer explains that it is not a self-help book, I still found it to be a great introduction tutorial.

Rating: 8.5/10

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