Anyone who knows me should realize my memory's something to laugh about. Forget shopping lists -- I can't even remember I need to go shopping. So when I came to work one day and pictured frogs hopping out of the copy machine, I was highly impressed that I remembered to make copies of a Leap Day program flyer. This was a fun test of what I'd learned in this book and it worked!
While surfing the net, journalist Joshua Foer stumbled upon a man named Ben Pridmore who could memorize the order of 1,528 random digits in 1 hour and knew 50,000 digits of pi. Ben Pridmore was then topped by a Japanese mnemonist who had memorized 83,431 digits of pi, taking 16 hours and 28 minutes to recite. How in the world could someone possibly do this? Obviously it must be something in their genes; or is it? Foer began to research memory and within one year he'd worked himself up to the finals of the U.S. Memory Championship with the help of some elite "mental athletes." Who knew there were international competitions presided over by the World Memory Sport Council in which participants are asked to memorize over 200 random words in 15 minutes or over 20 decks of cards in an hour.
I didn't read this book intentionally to improve my memory and that's not the primary focus of this book. Foer gives comprehensive and often hilarious accounts of the history of memory, including mental athletes, savants, amnesiacs, and synesthetes, a rare group of people who feel, hear and taste color. The author goes into much detail and cites many different sources and research studies on psychological and medical studies of memory. He explains different techniques for memorization that athletes use such as chunking, the PAO system and the memory palace (of which I found the most useful). Changing rote memorization into a "visual memory" using "spatial navigation" was an illuminating new idea for me. I've tried it with many things after reading this book and it's actually working for me. Foer makes the point that memory and creativity work hand in hand and anyone can improve their memory using devices that are easily learned, but may be a little difficult to master. The author shows you how to get started the same way many master mental athletes do while describing his rise to the memory competition.
Now that I know it's totally within my current abilities to accomplish even a portion of what Foer has, I have hope for my memory in the future! I just need to remember to work on that.
Recommended by Allison Holbrook