A journalist (Josh Foer) gets curious about memory championships and trains to participate in one. Through “deliberate practice”, he wins the US memory championships and represents US at the World memory championships. Overall, I found this book an interesting read:


Key takeaways from Moonwalking with Einstein


  • Structure of memory championships: memorize poetry, decks of cards, random digits, names-and-faces, random words
  • Memorization tricks:
    • Memory palace: Humans have evolved to remember spatial information much better than other kinds of information. Thus, most memorization involves the use of “memory palaces”, wherein, the memorizer deliberately plants “memory-images” at known locations in the palaces in a particular sequence (like walking from the front door all the way to the backyard). Also, the “images” are likely to be more memorable if they are bizzare. Men typically remember images, while women are likely to remember the feelings associated with those images.
    • Chunking: The act of grouping together pieces of information so that they are remembered as a unit. For example, the portioning of phone numbers into xxx-xxx-xxxx.
    • Major system: Create a mapping of consonants to digits and remember sequences of numbers by forming sentences. Vowels can be introduced as need to make meaningful words.
    • Person-Action-Object (PAO): As a better alternative to the major system, associate person, action and object to each number/playing-card, and then every sequence of 3 cards is converted into an image of a PAO, which can then be placed into a memory palace.
  • The business of memory tricks: A lot of people made millions of dollars out of people’s fascination with increasing their memorization capabilities. Among them: Tony Buzan and Daniel Tammet
  • Everyone has the hidden talent to improve their memorization capability. According to the author, except Kim Peek (the person that inspired “The rainman”), other cases of “memory savants” are unlikely to be true.
  • The author confirms that the memory champions are ordinary people, ordinary people who practiced deliberately. In fact, these champions have not been able to utilize their memory prowess in their day-to-day life, although the very act of memorization has made them more aware of their senses, because listening/seeing is the most crucial part of memorization. They are as likely to forget their car keys as anyone else. Also, these people are no better than others at creative and insightful activities. They are just good at a sport.
  • Finally, what I found most interesting is that the author, at the end of his one year experiment with memory training, decides that that’s the end of the road for him. As far as memory championships go. I think this is interesting, because inspite of being among the elite group of memory champions, the author decides to go back to what he likes to do: journalism. Something that he can actually make a difference with.
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