Thursday, June 30, 2011

Moonwalking with Einstein


When I go for nonfiction, I gravitate toward the popular nonfiction that's full of trivial information.  Moonwalking with Einstein, Joshua Foer's book that follows his path to the U.S. Memory Championship, fills the niche nicely.
It all started when Josh, a science journalist, covered the championship for an assignment.  He quickly got caught up in the world of mnemonists after being taken under the wing of a world-renowned memorist, Ed Cooke.  Cooke convinced him to study for the next year's championship, and this led to tons of research into the human memory.  Some of the most intriguing sections of the book include:
-an interview with the man with the worst case of Alzheimer's in the U.S.
-how people become experts in a field.
-the crazy testing London cabbies have to pass to drive taxis in the city.
-tons of little bits of what people are capable of remembering (one guy knows over 83,000 numbers of Pi!).
I'll say this: while the book is interesting in some points, I'm having a hard time reading it for a substantial amount of time.  Foer does point out that we read now more for extensiveness, as in reading as much as we can, than intensiveness, which is reading a piece of literature and squeezing everything we can out of it.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as the nature of memory is changing from an internal thing  (we remember phone numbers because we don't have memories in our phones, memorize epic poems because we don't have paper) to something outside of our persons (we take pictures, keep daily journals, etc. so we can recall information only after looking at an external source).
This underlying discussion point, about the loss of our collective internal memory, is what ultimately keeps me reading.  I'm close to being done, but can't guarantee that I'll remember the author's name in a few years.  He will, however, be at the National Book Festival this year, so I'll keep him in mind until then!

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm...don't think I'll read this one. Right now I'm deep into my own external source by plowing through my journals from the 1990's. Having fun matching up snapshots with all the events I wrote about way back when. Making a real "timecapsule" for you granddaughters to endure someday!