MEMORY CRAFT by Lynne Kelly


Improve Your Memory With the Most Powerful Methods in History--From Medieval Bestiaries to Tibetan Mandalas
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An Australian “memory champion” offers some tricks of the trade.

The human brain processes huge amounts of sensory data every day, only some of which gets lodged in it for future access. This can be a problem when trying to remember, say, the name of a person—for which reason cultures from around the world have developed memory-training regimens. “A highly trained memory was greatly admired in the classical Greco-Roman era,” writes Kelly (The Memory Code: The Secrets of Stonehenge, Easter Island and Other Ancient Monuments, 2017). “Not only was it useful in politics and speech making, it was also a terrific way to show off.” So it was that the Roman philosopher Seneca lined up 100 students, had each recite a line of poetry, and then repeated the lines in order—and then backward. Kelly examines the techniques employed to perform such prodigious feats, among them the “memory palace,” a mental construct made up of rooms, pieces of furniture, and such that are then populated with facts and figures. The author writes that she has more than 1,000 such locations—and other memory experts have many more. Among the other techniques that she discusses are "visual alphabets in the shapes of animals and humans,” narrative scrolls that develop character-rich stories to aid memory, ingenious mnemonic devices, memorizing long sequences of numbers by means of attaching sounds to them, and perhaps the most useful brain-as-muscle exercise by which one should review a piece of information five times over three months in order to move it into long-term memory. Kelly’s book takes a gee-whiz approach to a scholarly body of literature that includes Frances Yates’ classic books on Renaissance memory studies and recent works of neuroscience such as Daniel Levitin’s The Organized Mind, but the narrative covers the ground well and entertains as it travels.

Of benefit to anyone seeking to remember a scrap of information for more than a couple of minutes.

Pub Date: Jan. 7th, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-64-313324-9
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Pegasus
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2019