We cover a lot of ground in my coaching session. Discussions often range over the history of mnemonics, to the science of memory, to the possible role of mnemonic techniques in education and to links between mnemonics and archeology, neuroscience, the history of computers and more! I like to provide sources for everything I teach, and students often ask me for reminders on books I’ve mentioned, or for advice on where they might learn more. As such, I’ve compiled a list of books I often recommend to students, with brief remarks on each. Please note that I’ve also included affiliate links for each book below (just click on the titles). Buying books through these links doesn’t the price but some of the money does go towards supporting me and my work.
Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein has probably done more to raise the profile of the Arts of Memory than any other book. It was a New York Times bestseller and is a favorite of Bill Gates. Foer tells the story of his journey from mnemonic neophyte to USA memory champion, all the while weaving in stories from science, history, and his own experiences in the weird and wonderful world of competitive memorizing. This is the book I recommend to people interested in memory training. Readers interested in learning more can also check out a review I wrote for the journal Reinvention, back in 2014, here.
Lynne Kelly’s The Memory Code was something of a surprise hit when it first came out. It’s a popular version of her PhD thesis – not the kind of thing that necessarily captures the public imagination – but the book fascinating, both in it’s excellent use of ethnographic materials to explore the incredible mnemonic techniques of indigenous cultures but also for Lynne’s provocative thesis that Stone Henge is actually a mnemonic device similar in use and purpose to the method of loci. I had the great pleasure of interviewing Lynne about her book a couple of years ago, which you can read here.
This book by Harry Lorayne was one of the first books on mnemonics I ever read. It is a very slim volume but is packed full of practical examples for memorizing information from any subject imaginable – something regrettably missing in many other memory books. It’s a bit hard to get a hold of now but would make for an excellent gift for any student in high school or university. I for one think these techniques belong in our classrooms. My views on this were the subject of a feature in The Age, here.
No list of books on memory would be complete without at least one entry by Tony Buzan. Buzan was a divisive figure in the memory world, far too comfortable peddling pseudoscience and speed reading, but he was the father of memory sports and the inventor of mind-mapping. He wrote over 80 books, but The Memory Book is, in my opinion, the definitive collection of his ideas. It serves as something of a compendium of common techniques but also contains an introduction to mind mapping and a technique of Tony’s own invention called SEM3.
Many people are surprised to learn that Ted Hughes, Poet Laureate and husband of Sylvia Plath, was an avid fan of mnemonic techniques. In fact, Hughes played an important role in the early days of the World Memory Championships, penning a new poem each year for the poetry memorization event. In addition, he compiled a short anthology of poems he thought especially well suited to memorization, along with a foreword instructing readers in the relevant technique. This volume is a great read for anyone interested in learning to memorize poetry or in the unlikely role its author played in the history of memory sports.