EE’s Book Club: Moonwalking With Einstein

Why is it so damn hard to remember some things and so easy to recall others? The key, it turns out, is the Memory Palace.

Moonwalking with Einstein: ⭐️5.5 out of 6.9⭐️

Initially a book recommendation from a buddy who was finishing flight school, Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein was marketed to me as a mind-blowing way to improve my memory.

Considering I am constantly looking for latest “life-hacks” as well as my keys and/or wallet, this sounded like a great book for me.

Who is Joshua Foer?

The Hook

It was at Navy OCS that I was first introduced to the level of memorization expected of Naval Officers—committing to memory Watchstanding Principles, Orders to the Sentry, and verbatim descriptions of ranks and collar insignias. Although it probably took me longer than the average Indoctrination Candidate, I was pretty surprised to look back and realize just how much text and information I was able to memorize.

A good start, for sure... But once I started flight school and saw the level of memorization expected of pilots, it became clear I would have to either evolve from my former goldfish form or take back my motorcycle, aviator sunglasses, and hot girlfriend (all standard-issue) and end my pilot dreams before they even got started.

Key Points

Most of the book is about the journey of journalist Joshua Foer on becoming the 2006 USA Memory Champion. And then some of the book is spent enlightening the reader that there is such a thing as a Memory Championship and on the many quirky personalities that participate in such a thing.

Coached by Grand Master of Memory (look it up), Ed Cooke, Joshua spends months on memory exercise and practice, memorizing:

  • Random names and their associated faces
  • As many randomly generated numbers as possible in five minutes
  • A freshly shuffled deck of cards as quickly as possible
  • Poetry (of any language)

Throughout telling his story of going from memory novice to champion, Joshua works in fascinating anecdotes and facts of mesmerizing memories.

What I found most interesting was the insight into the origin of loci in the 500 B.C. era as poet Simonides’ main tool for orating lengthy speeches. By transforming words or even lines of poetry into fantastically descriptive images in his head, Simonides was known for his unusually sharp memory.

Simonides’ memory was so renowned that when a banquet hall collapsed, he was used by officials to recall the seating arrangement of the entire banquet hall of dinner guests in order to recover the bodies from the ruble. With party tricks like that I bet back in the day that guy could really bring the house down.

This technique of using vivid images and placing them along a familiar path–like walking around the kitchen of your childhood home–is known as a Memory Palace. More detail on the Memory Palace can be found here and is largely attributed for what makes such amazing memory feats possible.

Why You Need This Book

This book is great if you:

  1. Want to improve your memory
  2. Need to improve your memory
  3. Forgot that you have “Remember Things Better” as a New Year’s goal

In all seriousness, this book was a really enjoyable read (listen) and probably my top pick for the year so far under the “Self Improvement” category.

It was interesting, informative, and I can definitely see why my friend recommended it for aspiring pilots. The shear volume of information we are expected to learn is daunting; whether it be emergency procedures, 2000-word safety briefs, or the overwhelming quantity of girls’ phone numbers I have to remember from the bar when I mention I drive the car that won this year’s JD Power and Associates Award.

If you’d like to check out the book, here’s a link so you can buy it on Amazon and support the site in the process. Also, if you prefer to listen like I do there’s probably an option to do that too.

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