The Nostalgia Factory by Douwe Draaisma

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I picked up this book hoping to get a sense of the state of the art in the science of understanding memory. So I was a bit disappointed. It does cover (and utterly debunk) the myth that doing brain exercises (such as sudoku) will stave off memory loss or dementia, which is sad but useful to know (if one is not fond of sudoku). There are chapters on homesickness and nostalgia, which are heartwrenching to read…more an account of the suffering that memory can bring, rather than comfort. No hope is offered on the subject of dementia, despite an anecdote revealing that with the correct stimulus and support, some memories can be revived temporarily. There is a long, dull interview with Oliver Sachs, the salient points of which I do not recall. The most interesting chapters were on the window of retained memory that most people seem to experience in their twenties. Draaisma speculates that this is because new experiences are being captured or that there’s something about our brain development at that time, but nobody knows. What is becoming clearer is that old people remember that period of their lives the most clearly. By far…the decades of interesting life after that blur and fade. The book is written with empathy and gentle humour, and is easy to read.

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