by Dominic O'Brien
Simon & Schuster, 2003
Review by David M. Wolf, M.A. on Mar 17th 2004
This is a brilliantly conceived
and delivered set of programs for anyone who wants to improve personal memory
in a variety of areas of everyday life. More than that, as well, this is a
program that can actually start someone on the road to being a memory champion
if anyone should have that desire. When you listen to Dominic O'Brien,
seven-time world memory champion, talk about his strategies for remembering
facts, dates, names and faces, numbers, cards, indeed anything worth
remembering, you have no doubt at all about the authenticity of what he
teaches. It's not just that his approach and his lessons sound practical and
useful; it's that he continually drags the listener into actually memorizing
things while learning how to do so, removing all lingering doubt that these
Most listeners perhaps, like
this reviewer, will be looking for ways to overcome gaps in ordinary memory,
not for the chance to amaze the world with champion memory. So, I'll focus
mostly on the value and quality of this work for the average person. The
quality is high and the value is very great.
Most people do forget names of
people they have just met at some social gathering, even in very small groups.
It's a most troublesome part of contemporary life. With so much data to record
and remember, we find ourselves embarrassed when confronted with someone we
have just met or recently met and cannot, not to save our lives, speak that
person's name. And we know that, no matter how we apologize or try to
ingratiate ourselves, we will never really be forgiven by that offended person.
It's enough to give us the creeps about going out to parties, community
concerts, or anywhere we will be sure to bump into people we've met.
O'Brien deals with this area
of memory early in his programs, providing strategies that are based on three
keys to memory: association, location, and imagination. These same keys occur
again and again, so we build upon our skills very quickly, moving through the
six CDs. He shows us techniques that involve "taking a journey" and
employing the three keys to easily nail down names and faces permanently to
memory (permanent if we review the material a few times). These techniques are
actually tried and tested in the CDs, so the listener has no doubt they work
and experiences how well these things work.
Next O'Brien tackles people's
"worst fear," that of getting up in front of an audience and trying
to speak, only to find that memory and notes have been overwhelmed by
fear-induced memory loss. The same three keys,
association-location-imagination, come into play again as he shows how to
memorize an entire speech so that anyone can deliver a speech without notes, a
talk of any length or on any subject. Surely, this is an amazing skill to
possess; O'Brien shows how it can be done over and over with just a few of his
Other applications of his
methods occupy the remaining disks in the set, each with some advancing power,
but never with any difficulty: memorize chemical names or other facts for
college courses, create fact files, memorize huge telephone numbers by the
hundreds (no kidding), remember all the details of a newspaper, memorize entire
decks of playing cards, and other memory feats. Each of these feats are taught
in ways that show the listener actually doing these things, so the learning is
believable and real. So, if anyone wants to be a memory champion, this program
will get you way down that road.
But something equally
important is also present and available here. O'Brien uses his own story and
his techniques to teach us some things about "learning how to learn"
and about the importance of these basics to everything in our lives. He also
teaches concentration techniques, relaxation methods, mind balancing, and the
sheer fun of using our memory.
He teaches something that
builds confidence--our own, that is. How valuable is that? Why would we neglect
the creation of such skills when it becomes clear throughout the program how
they can actually be acquired? Well, we all know the best intentions often lead
us only to disappointment.
This program will not
disappoint for anyone who sincerely listens, does the exercises included, and
continues to work with the methods and techniques provided. They are simple,
obviously memorable, and universal, that is, apply everywhere and in all
Now, since nothing's perfect,
one limitation in this set: This program was recorded by a "Brit" for
English audiences. Many of the references, such as "two fifty pence pieces," will strike the US ear as King's English. Sometimes this gets in the way
during the memory exercises, but it's far from fatal in each case.
On the whole, this program
makes a wonderful addition to anyone's library or a wonderful gift you can give
any person. Give it fearlessly to someone older who is afraid he or she is
having too many "senior moments," because it can give back more than
techniques--it provides the practice to fire up memory and make it work even
for someone who is experiencing memory lapses. Give the program, also, to
students at any level--from children through graduate students. It's never too
early to learn how to learn, how to remember. It's also never too late if a
person is physically able within any normal range. Give this set to any adult
who is feeling overwhelmed at work with organizational details; give it to
anyone who wants more out of life. That's probably most of us.
© 2004 David Wolf
David M. Wolf, M.A.
studied philosophy of science for the M.A. with Prof. David Hawkins at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and also read
advanced philosophy at Trinity College Dublin. His undergraduate education in
Philosophy was guided by Prof. Mason Gross. Wolf is certified in philosophic
counseling with the American Philosophic Practitioners Assoc. and earns his living
in management consulting, where he is distinguished in writing strategic plans
and advising in organization development and career counseling.