Once upon a time, mankind existed without cellular phones, personal digital assistants, the Internet or even Post-It notes. Heck, there weren’t even portable notepads or pencils. Through simple necessity, people were forced to train their memories to recall persons, events, even important texts, just to mingle in everyday society. Our modern world has evolved to the point that we surround ourselves with all sorts of tools just so we don’t have to remember anything.
Foer, a freshly minted journalist, stumbled upon the U.S. Memory Championship Event as part of a writing assignment. The contestants are members of an international group of memory enthusiasts determined to resurrect ancient techniques designed to help the human mind recall incredibly detailed information, even years after first learning it. A major component of this renaissance involves memorizing poems, shuffled card decks, random numbers, binary numbers, personal details of strangers, etc., all within specified time limits. The winner is that individual who remembers the most.
The book essentially chronicles the author’s yearlong training to compete in the championship. He introduces us not only to his coaches, mentors, and other competitors, but also to the scientists that study human memory. He claims many times through the text that he is not writing a self-help book, but his descriptions of how he personally utilizes memory techniques (and a healthy bibliography) make it simple for anyone to go out and do the same things he is doing. He also questions everybody and everything, taking the reader into a few uncomfortable conversations as he confronts a variety of persons with different talents in the world of remembering.
Rated: Mild. Just over a half-dozen coarse terms throughout the text.