Monday, July 04, 2011

Books: Stranger Than Fiction

A pair of fascinating non-fiction books to recommend ...

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, by Joshua Foer. Science journalist Foer covers the U.S. Memory Championship. The following year he’s back – as a competitor. The book details his training, utilizing techniques that date back to ancient Greece. Foer also explains our evolving understanding of how memory works, and how it’s changing in the internet age. He avers more than once that the approach described won’t help you remember where you left your car keys. But there’s a sequence where his trainer gets him to remember a random list, and Foer encourages the reader to personalize the technique. I did, and that list is now in my head to stay. This stuff works.

The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson. A chilling proposition lies at the core of the book, subtitled “A Journey Through the Madness Industry.” The traits that define psychopaths – confidence, charm, narcissism – are shared by politicians and captains of industry. Does that mean the world is run by lunatics? How do we define madness, anyway? Ronson (Them: Adventures with Extremists, The Men Who Stare at Goats) writes with a hugely engaging style, inserting himself and his own neuroses into the material in a way that illuminates the questions he raises.

Ruth Roberts, R.I.P.

The songwriter died July 1 at age 84. Her work was recorded by Buddy Holly and the Beatles among others. But her greatest accomplishment is my all-time favorite song: “Meet the Mets.”