The Guardian on Moonwalking with Einstein

There was a terrible article about Moonwalking with Einstein in The Guardian today by a reviewer who I think doesn’t understand the book.

The subtitle of the review is this negative line:

Joshua Foer’s account of his quest to become US memory champion is a dreary and pointless celebration of trivia

Followed by:

… the contests chronicled by Joshua Foer … reward competitors for the anal retention of trivia: the sequence of cards in a rapidly shuffled deck, the birthdates of total strangers, random glossaries of unfamiliar words. Such is the sadly diminished, demeaning role that the information age allots to our proudest and most precious mental skill.


[Foer’s] cerebrotonic workouts endow him with the ornamental, gym-cultivated biceps shown off by yuppie lawyers and gay hairstylists, whose occupations hardly require them to do heavy lifting.

Here is a reviewer who I think doesn’t understand the book or memory techniques at all.

The memory competitions aren’t about building up useless gym muscles. They are about practical techniques that are usable in everyday life as well as an education. The competitions provide goals for people, bring people together, and are a friendly way to promote the techniques.

Check out the review and let me know what you think.


  • Andreas Brekken

    We should cut the reviewer some slack; he’s just trying to get famous from sensationalism. The guardian is a blog at worst and with ads at best.

  • I would agree that reviewers (and media in general) are often sensationalist just to serve their own purposes. I have no objection to reviewers disliking certain authors or works and saying as much. In this case I found the reviewer’s intentionally derisive language (using words like “grotesque”, “malformed”, and the abandoned label “idiot-savant”) directed at Kim Peek inappropriate. This section of the review really had nothing to do with the quality of Foer’s writing or ideas.

  • Josh, thanks for this site. It’s a great resource.

    Critics think they have to be scathing to seem intelligent. This reviewer definitely doesn’t get Memory Sports. I would ask him about track and field events. Yes, running used to be crucial to mankind but that doesn’t denigrate the that form of competition. Memory and running are still important.

  • For what it’s worth, it looks like they also published a positive review: – I guess they’re just hedging their bets a bit!

  • Moonwalking with Einstein brought me here in my hunt for memory techniques. Apart from the bit about the championship and training, which obviously caused this reviewer some sort of aneurism, I was completely enraptured by the description of the beginning of writing, and the tidbits from the expert expert, such as overcoming the OK plateau. The art of memory is just that- an art. Dismissing it so shortly is like saying cubism is a pointless celebration of cubes. Yeah.

  • I agree that the reviewer completely missed the point. What began for Josh Foer as a “fluff” piece drew him in and the result is an indepth and extremely well-done research piece into one of the great mysteries of the human mind. We don’t consider how to improve our memory power because we increasingly depend on artificial intelligences. But thanks to the magnetism and charm of some of the quirky characters Josh met on his memory tournament assignment, he was intrigued. Anyone can do it, they said. He set out to see if it was true, and by the end of his personal journey I found myself cheering for him. I wanted Ed Cooke as my coach, for like, a “squillion quid a year!” And along the way, as a bonus, we get an entertaining history on the value of memorization from time immemorial, visits with some singularly amazing human specimens of memory or lack of it, and Josh’s good-humored jabs at himself as he questions his own sanity while putting himself through the bizarre paces that comprise what it takes to become a national memory champion in the space of one incredible year. While there may not be much practical application to memorizing multiple decks of cards or thousands of digits of pi, to dismiss the power of the mind trained in these techniques as a waste of time or a parlor trick seems short sighted at best. The success of the book speaks for itself. For pure entertainment value, I give it 4 stars. For the curious–beware. Attempting the memory techniques described can be highly addictive.

  • Not liking a book is one thing. Writing in derogatory language about a disabled person (Kim Peek) is another.
    What’s more – all the his points of critique are actually addressed in Foer’s book, so I’m wondering whether he actually read the book or just looked at it, scanned some paragraphs, formed an opinion and picked out phrases he could use to demonstrate his superiority.

    Since Peter Conrad has published several books himself, maybe he’s just jealous that Moonwalking already sold more copies than all of his 19 published books combined together.