Gwen & Kate's Library

Two sisters' reviews of Young Adult and Middle Grade books, inspired by their lovely library.

Gwen’s Review of Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

I’m pretty positive my reading of Moonwalking with Einstein marks my first reading (and at least enjoyment of) a non-history non fiction book. It was written in an easy-to-follow manner, with changes of scene often enough to keep the reader’s interest.


Series: None

Genres: Non Fiction, Memoir, Brain, Self-Help

Format: Audiobook, narrated by Mike Chamberlain

Rating: 4.5 stars


Foer’s unlikely journey from chronically forgetful science journalist to U.S. Memory Champion frames a revelatory exploration of the vast, hidden impact of memory on every aspect of our lives.
On average, people squander forty days annually compensating for things they’ve forgotten. Joshua Foer used to be one of those people. But after a year of memory training, he found himself in the finals of the U.S. Memory Championship. Even more important, Foer found a vital truth we too often forget: In every way that matters, we are the sum of our memories.
Moonwalking with Einstein draws on cutting-edge research, a surprising cultural history of memory, and venerable tricks of the mentalist’s trade to transform our understanding of human remembering. Under the tutelage of top “mental athletes,” he learns ancient techniques once employed by Cicero to memorize his speeches and by Medieval scholars to memorize entire books. Using methods that have been largely forgotten, Foer discovers that we can all dramatically improve our memories.
Immersing himself obsessively in a quirky subculture of competitive memorizers, Foer learns to apply techniques that call on imagination as much as determination–showing that memorization can be anything but rote. From the PAO system, which converts numbers into lurid images, to the memory palace, in which memories are stored in the rooms of imaginary structures, Foer’s experience shows that the World Memory Championships are less a test of memory than of perseverance and creativity.
Foer takes his inquiry well beyond the arena of mental athletes-across the country and deep into his own mind. In San Diego, he meets an affable old man with one of the most severe case of amnesia on record, where he learns that memory is at once more elusive and more reliable than we might think. In Salt Lake City, he swaps secrets with a savant who claims to have memorized more than nine thousand books. At a high school in the South Bronx, he finds a history teacher using twenty- five-hundred-year-old memory techniques to give his students an edge in the state Regents exam.
At a time when electronic devices have all but rendered our individual memories obsolete, Foer’s bid to resurrect the forgotten art of remembering becomes an urgent quest. Moonwalking with Einsteinbrings Joshua Foer to the apex of the U.S. Memory Championship and readers to a profound appreciation of a gift we all possess but that too often slips our minds.


I’m pretty positive my reading of Moonwalking with Einstein marks my first reading (and at least enjoyment of) a non-history non fiction book. It was written in an easy-to-follow manner, with changes of scene often enough to keep the reader’s interest.

I found that this book was like a story with history, science, and self-help tips and tricks dropped in. I loved not only learning about the art of memory, but also about its historical origins, the science behind it, and tips we could use ourselves! The main story revolves around Joshua Foer, a journalist, on his quest to win the national memory championship after only one year of training. Surprise surprise, he does it (not a spoiler)!

One of the most popular complaints about this book is that it does not teach you about how to improve your memory. But in my experience, this book is not broadcast as promising to do this — just read the first paragraph of the description! Moonwalking with Einstein is a memoir about a man’s personal journey. And it is a very interesting and well-written memoir, which gives many  tips and tricks, although it is not organized an a reference-book style.

Something that does confuse me is how easy it seems to win the American Memory Championship after only a year of practicing! Although I am sure this was done on purpose to make the book readable for a wider audience, the writing style makes the author seem rather, well, “normal.” He doesn’t seem to be any smarter than the next person, and it just seems surprising that anybody could train for a year and then immediately win the national competition.

Another thing that I have been thinking about is the fact that this author makes using memory techniques sound like something quite useless in the modern world. The only way he used it was for the championship events — poetry, names and faces (which could be used in other situations), list of random words and digits, and card memorization. When in “life” are you going to need to be able to memorize a deck of cards as fast as you can? Why spend all that time learning to memorize cards if it doesn’t apply to your normal life? All he got out of winning the championship was a trophy and a few interviews.

However, despite Joshua’s interests in these methods, there are other applications for the same tips and techniques he provides, and I loved learning about them in Moonwalking with Einstein.

Thank you so much Lydia for your amazing recommendation! I am so glad I read this book!


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This entry was posted on November 21, 2014 by in Adult, Author: Gwen, Favorites, Review and tagged , , , , .
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