Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I recently finished three books on memory, inspired by a class Chris Stuart taught at the CBA Music Camp this summer. He was inspired by one of the books, but there was line to get a copy of that book from the library, so I started with some of the other ones Chris listed in the bibliography he handed out.

The first book was The Memory Book by Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas. This seems like an odd combination since Lorayne is a memory expert/magician and Lucas is a former NBA player (and Basketball Hall of Fame member), but Lucas actually developed his own memory techniques and is a fan of Lorayne's, and the book is built around a conversation between them about memory techniques. It was published in the 60s, and it shows. It comes off as a slightly cheesy, self-help book, and the original cover pictures is typical 60s. But in some ways, it's the most useful of the three books. It presents the basics of how the memory techniques work, with some exercises, in a quick to read, straight forward and practical fashion.

The second book was Your Memory by Kenneth L. Higbee. Higbee is an academic, and his book takes a more thorough approach. It covers some of the science behind how memory works and what science shows about the various memory techniques. It's a much drier read, but much more complete and covers more techniques and possible applications than The Memory Book.

The third book, and the one that inspired Chris Stuart originally, is Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. This book tells the story of how the author went from researching memory competitions, to competing in, and winning, the US Memory Championship. It's an interesting story, and well written, but the memory techniques are only explained as they aid the story. In particular, Foer only really focuses on two techniques, the loci (or memory palace) method and the PAO (person-action-object) method. And the main focus is on the second method, PAO, which is a high overhead, very inflexible method that is only really suited for memory competitions where you need to learn a fixed type of thing very quickly.

Overall, I'm glad I read all three. I think if I'd only read the last one, I would have been put off by the techniques described. Instead, I think I'll try to incorporate some of the other techniques into my life.

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