Two Time USA Memory Champion and memory training expert and memory speaker Ron White shares his thoughts on Joshua Foer and the book Moonwalking with Eisntein

I must confess when I first learned about the 2006 USA Memory Champion Joshua Foer the story was not told in the greatest light. From more than one person the words used to describe him were, ‘snob, condescending, arrogant, aristocrat’ and ‘smug’. I had never met him and so I just took it for granted that these descriptions were accurate.

I think perhaps much of the negative feedback with Josh had to do with the fact that in his book he refers to the memory athletes as ‘nerds’ and sure, I think it is a natural reaction when you are getting described as a nerd to lash back at the originator of that accusation. However, in fairness to Josh…he is trying to sell books and a little humor helps. Plus of course, there is some measure of truth that there a lack of social skills could be a mark of many in the memory tournament community. I also must admit, in my memory training speeches I have made the same jokes Josh made in his book. It is playing to a stereotype that is frankly funny.  But as I get older, I have less and less seen the high school social groups of ‘nerds, jocks, preps,etc’ and just seen people. With that said, I can’t argue with many of the descriptions in his book.

Another reason for the description of Josh perhaps had to do a lot with jealousy. He was paid a nice advance (rumors say over $1 million) to write his book. On the one hand, you have memory experts who have dedicated their life to this sport and then came along a writer who cashed in after 1 year. While I understand their frustration, I say, ‘Tough luck and good for Josh’. The opportunity was there for all of us to do what Josh did, because he did it we should only be upset with ourselves that we weren’t first.

In 2010, one of my fellow memory training competitors emailed me a video of Josh where it appeared he was saying he still held the record for the fastest to memorize cards. I held that record at the time and I sent him an email pointing that out. We had a friendly enough of a dialogue and he explained it was an honest mistake but I still hadn’t met Josh.

The friend who emailed me the video link also emailed me in 2011 and said, ‘I read Josh’s book Moonwalking With Einstein and I hate to admit it, but it is really good.’ It seems the memory community was starting to embrace Josh a little. Perhaps because the product (his book) was good, perhaps because the animosity to him was in the first place unfounded or perhaps because he was becoming a celebrity and they just wanted to be friends with a celebrity.

In the weeks prior to the 2011 USA Memory Championship I purchased Josh’s book, Moonwalking With Einstein and I really enjoyed it. It was fascinating reading a book about the people I considered my friend and Josh is a very good writer. I really enjoyed the story of the actual tournament as I have lived the experience he had over and over. It was a very enjoyable read.

After thinking about it, Josh probably had a little to do with my USA Memory Championship win. In 2008 I read his article on on how to win the USA Memory Championship and he referenced something called ‘character, action, object‘ in regards to memorizing cards. I had never heard about this. After Chester Santos won in 2008, Chester said, ‘I think Character, Action, Object’ is the way to go. I may be wrong, but I think Josh may have been the first USA Memory Championship competitor to use this technique and if so he made a big improvement to the memory methods of our sport in the USA.

At the 2011 USA Memory Championship I remember seeing him and he smiled and introduced himself and I thought, ‘Is this the same guy so many had said negative stuff about?’ I didn’t get that at all. To me Josh came across as a nice guy who produced a great book about a fascinating sport and cashed in big time.

I had him autograph my copy of Moonwalking With Einstein and we took some photos together and promised to have a beer or catch a baseball game in the future. I left with the impression that Josh Foer is a really good guy and deserves any and all of the success that comes his way. I for one will be at the movie theatre when his book hits the screen (and I only see about 1 movie every 2 years) and I recommend that you watch the movie as well.

If you are looking to purchase a copy of Moonwalking With Einstein you can get it here