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Memories are made of this

John R. Hodges
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/awt313 970-972 First published online: 25 November 2013

‘He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.’ (from Love in a time of cholera, Gabriel García Márquez, 1988)

There are so many great quotes about memory that it is very hard to choose just one to illustrate its place in the human condition. But it seems poignant to begin with Marquez, who, although now suffering from advanced dementia and with little memory left of his own life, has so much to say about memory in his wonderful books (Jacobs, 2012). Given our enduring fascination with memory, it is not surprising that amnesia has had a lead role in neuropsychology. Both of the books under review deal with loss, or distortion, of memory but from very different viewpoints.

Suzanne Corkin’s book on the amnesic patient H.M., Permanent present tense (Corkin, 2013), and Alison Winter’s book, Memory: Fragments of a modern history (Winter, 2012), are both excellent. But they are chalk and cheese. Extending this analogy, Suzanne Corkin’s book could be seen as an in-depth study of the science of cheese-making focusing on English cheddar, whereas Alison Winter’s is the equivalent of the history, sociology and psychology of cheese-making across the ages. Yet despite radically different perspectives, there are overlapping themes and commonalities. One of these is the impact of trends in science. Another is the way in which scientists have used metaphors based on technology of the age to explain the workings of memory.

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