Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer is the first book on memory that I read. Here is a link to an extended article by the author. The NY Times article is so extensive that I don’t feel the need to provide much of a review. You’ll get a good sense of what the book is all about by reading the article. Instead, I want to share some observations I have had since finishing the book.
The book is extremely well written and entertaining, and makes an excellent introduction to the world of the memory athlete. However, first and foremost it is a story, and as such falls a bit short in terms of being instructive about memory techniques. This is more than made up for by the rich list of references in the back of the book, which provide a good entry point for further study. When I reviewed the sources listed and the book as a whole, I was drawn to two sources – Cicero’s Rhetorica ad Herennium and Frances Yates’ The Art Of Memory. The ad Herennium gets a bit too much credit, I think. There are other ancient and medieval sources for memory instruction, many of which have views in conflict with ad Herennium and techniques unknown to Cicero. It is a mistake, I think, to consider ad Herennium credit for being “the” source for memory techniques. Cicero did not give us the first and final authoritative word on everything related to memory – memory instruction was far too broadly known for that to have been the case.
My feelings about Frances Yates’ highly regarded work can be found here. The short summary is that I don’t care for it. However, Joshua Foer definately left me with the impression that Cicero and Yates were the two best historical sources, and I just don’t find that position compelling.
Those are minor quibbles. Moonwalking With Einstein is informative and entertaining, and I highly recommend it.