Quick Book Review: Pieces of Light by Charles Fernyhough (DNF)

Pieces of Light by James Fernyhough

This is a non-fiction book about memory and recent research into memory. I love non-fiction about memory. In fact, in my study of Experimental Psychology, I chose some extra courses on the topic. That was a while ago, so I’m not up-to-date any more. So this sounded like a great book for me.

And really, it was. But, I’m sorry to say, I lost interest with the book. The sub-topics were interesting enough, for instance, how people pull together bits of general information and bits of memory to make a coherent story about something that happened in the past. I thought the idea was fascinating that you don’t just remember something, but you actively “make something up” from what you know/remember – and how you tend to remember only what is important to you. This is how you can remember something almost right, but not quite. Or how siblings can have different memories about the same event.

The problem with the book, for me, was that the author made it almost into a memoir. He uses (and tests) memories from himself and describes them in some detail (and to which degree they correspond to the reality – e.g., places he remembers and revisits in the current time). Also, other people’s stories are told in some detail.

All this detracted too much from the (for me) interesting phenomena that were being described about memory. That is, the personal evidence going with this phenomena was too detailed for me and not interesting enough to keep me reading. Maybe I’ll try again some other time, but for now, my interest in the book (though not the topic of the book) has waned a bit.

Book description from publishers: “How is it possible to have vivid memories of something that never happened?

How can siblings remember the same event from their childhoods so differently?

Do the selections and distortions of memory reveal a truth about the self?

Why are certain memories tied to specific places?

Does your memory really get worse as you get older?

A new consensus is emerging among cognitive scientists: rather than possessing fixed, unchanging memories, we create recollections anew each time we are called upon to remember. As the psychologist Charles Fernyhough explains, remembering is an act of narrative imagination as much as it is the product of a neurological process. In Pieces of Light, he eloquently illuminates this compelling scientific breakthrough via a series of personal stories—a visit to his college campus to see if his memories hold up, an interview with his ninety-three-year-old grandmother, conversations with those whose memories are affected by brain damage and trauma—each illustrating memory’s complex synergy of cognitive and neurological functions.

Fernyhough guides readers through the fascinating new science of autobiographical memory, covering topics including imagination and the power of sense associations to cue remembering. Exquisitely written and meticulously researched, Pieces of Light brings together science and literature, the ordinary and the extraordinary, to help us better understand the ways we remember—and the ways we forget.”

Rating: Did not finish

Number of pages: 320 (I read about 100 pages)

First published: 2013

I got this book: from Harper for review

Genre: non-fiction, memory

Have you read this book?

Did you enjoy it?


About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at bookhelpline.com. In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

7 Responses to Quick Book Review: Pieces of Light by Charles Fernyhough (DNF)

  1. Marie says:

    I, too, love reading about how our memories work. I think the whole thing is fascinating. It’s really too bad this book didn’t work for you. From you descriptions, I think I’d have the same problems with the book.

  2. Leslie says:

    I’ve got this one in audio. Maybe listening while multitasking will be better than ‘reading’. We’ll see!

  3. Charlie says:

    I guess with the idea of “autobiographical memory” it makes sense that there would be personal experience, but from everything you’ve said it sounds as though this is more about science itself and therefore you’d want to know that rather than one person’s life. Personally I’ve always found it awkward in such books when the author speaks of themselves.

  4. Pingback: Pieces of Light: The New Science of Memory | Science Book a Day

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