The Woman Who Can't Forget: The Extraordinary Story of Living with the Most Remarkable Memory Known to Science--A Memoir

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9781416561767: The Woman Who Can't Forget: The Extraordinary Story of Living with the Most Remarkable Memory Known to Science--A Memoir

Jill Price has the first diagnosed case of a memory condition called "hyperthymestic syndrome" -- the continuous, automatic, autobiographical recall of every day of her life since she was fourteen. Give her any date from that year on, and she can almost instantly tell you what day of the week it was, what she did on that day, and any major world event or cultural happening that took place, as long as she heard about it that day. Her memories are like scenes from home movies, constantly playing in her head, backward and forward, through the years; not only does she make no effort to call her memories to mind, she cannot stop them. The Woman Who Can't Forget is the beautifully written and moving story of Jill's quest to come to terms with her extraordinary memory, living with a condition that no one understood, including her, until the scientific team who studied her finally charted the extraordinary terrain of her abilities. As we learn of Jill's struggles first to realize how unusual her memory is and then to contend, as she grows up, with the unique challenges of not being able to forget -- remembering both the good times and the bad, the joyous and the devastating, in such vivid and insistent detail -- the way her memory works is contrasted to a wealth of discoveries about the workings of normal human memory and normal human forgetting. Intriguing light is shed on the vital role of what's called "motivated forgetting"; as well as theories about childhood amnesia, the loss of memory for the first two to three years of our lives; the emotional content of memories; and the way in which autobiographical memories are normally crafted into an ever-evolving and empowering life story.

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About the Author:

Bart Davis is the author of thirteen books and two feature films. He lives with his family in New York.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


Alone with My Memory

You have to begin to lose your memory, if only in bits and pieces, to realize that memory makes our lives. Life without memory is no life at all.... Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action. Without it, we are nothing.
-- Luis Buñuel, Memoirs

Why is it that solitary confinement, without labor, is regarded as the severest form of imprisonment? It is because the lonely victim can find nothing to do but to remember. And this incessant remembering has often proved more than the mind could bear.
-- Reverend D. B. Coe, The Memory of the Lost

Time has one fundamental principle: it moves forward. We go from birth to death, from first to last.We are young before we grow old, stimulus always precedes response, and there is no return to yesterday. The sole exception is memory. For me, because of the way my memory works, not only do I often return to yesterday, I can never escape it. I live with a constant, unstoppable parade of the yesterdays of my life flashing furiously through my mind.

Give me a date, and I will travel right to some particular moment of that day and tell you what I was doing, as well as what day of the week it was and any major event that happened that day, as long as I heard about it then, in addition to certain events that pop into my mind that happened around the same time. November 14,1981, a Saturday: My dad's forty-fifth birthday. That night a school group I was joining, the Rasonians, was initiating new members and taking us out in Westwood. July 18,1984, a Wednesday: A quiet summer day. I picked up the book Helter Skelter and read it for the second time. In ten days, Saturday, July 28, Los Angeles would be hosting the Summer Olympics. February 14,1998, a Saturday: I was working as a researcher on a television special and went into work to pick clips, a job I loved because I'm a TV fanatic.

My recall also works the other way: if you ask me about an event, again from 1980 onward, as long as I heard about it, I can give you the date and day of the week it happened, and related information. The end of the FBI siege on the Branch Davidian compound: Monday, April 19, 1993. It began on Sunday, February 28, 1993, two days after the World Trade Center bombing on Friday, February 26, 1993. The final episode of MASH airs: Monday, February 28, 1983. It was raining that day and the next day when I was driving my car, the windshield wipers stopped working. The nuclear reactor in Chernobyl melts down: Saturday, April 26, 1986. I was visiting friends in Phoenix. The day the Chinese army brutally suppressed protests in Tiananmen Square: Sunday, June 4, 1989. My aunt Pauline had just passed away, so we were taking my grandmother, her sister, to lunch at Eddie Saul's Deli to break the news to her.

This ability to automatically recall not only dates but also days of the week for events, and then to flip that and recall events for dates,was the feature of my memory that initially startled Dr. McGaugh, because it was unique in the annals of memory research.

That first day I met him -- Saturday, June 24, 2000 -- automatic recall was the kind of test that he gave me. I was excited driving down from Los Angeles to meet him at the research complex at UCI. Though I was desperately hoping that Dr. McGaugh would be able to tell me why my memory works the way it does, I was also a bit unnerved about what I might learn. Who knew what odd brain condition I might have? I had also kept so much to myself for so long about how insistent my memories were, and how they ruled my life, that the concept of disclosing to a complete stranger the weird phenomenon that was raging in my mind was disconcerting. I felt that I'd be exposing my innermost self -- a self that I had not even truly revealed to my family and friends because I hadn't known how to make them understand. But I just had to know, finally, what was going on in my head, and my excitement about Dr. McGaugh having agreed to meet with me far outweighed my trepidation.

As I walked up to the research building, there he was, waiting outside for me, and from the moment he greeted me, he put me at ease. First, he gave me a simple test, which was the beginning of a process of discovery that has changed my life in so many ways.

We went up to his lab, and he had a big reference book lying on the table we sat down at -- The 20th Century Day by Day. He pulled two lists out of the book that he had prepared from it. One was of historically important events occurring during the past thirty years -- roughly the period of my strong memory -- and the other was a list of dates. He started with the list of dates and asked me to tell him what event had happened on each.

The first date on the list was November 5, 1979, and I immediately told him it was a Monday but that I didn't know what happened on that day. On the day before, though, on November 4 of that year, I said, the Iranian students had invaded the U.S. embassy in Tehran and taken the hostages whom they held for 444 days. He shook his head and said, no, that happened on the fifth. I told him I was sure it had happened on November 4, and because I was so adamant, he decided to check another source.

When it turned out that I was right and the book was wrong, I could see that Dr. McGaugh was stunned. I was right about all of the other dates on the list too. Then he quizzed me about the second list, which was of events, asking me to give him the date they happened. I got every one of those right too, and as Dr. McGaugh explained to me, one of the things that surprised him the most was how automatic my answers were. He was intrigued that I was clearly not actively trying to recall the answers; they were just there for immediate access.The complete lists, with the answers I gave, as they were reproduced in the paper Dr. McGaugh wrote about me years later, were as follows. Note that in the scientific paper, the scientists referred to me as AJ, in the tradition of preserving the anonymity of subjects of research:


8/16/77 Tuesday, Elvis died
6/6/78 Tuesday, Proposition 13 passed in CA
5/25/79 Friday, Plane crash, Chicago
11/4/79 Sunday, Iranian invasion of US Embassy
5/18/80 Sunday, Mt. St Helens erupted
10/23/83 Wednesday, Bombing in Beirut, killed 300
1/17/94 Monday, Northridge Earthquake
12/21/88 Wednesday, Lockerby [Lockerbie] Plane Crash
5/3/91 Friday, Last Episode of Dallas
5/4/01 Friday, Robert Blake's Wife Killed


San Diego Plane Crash Monday, September 25, 1978
Who Shot JR? Friday, November 21, 1980
Gulf War Wednesday, January 16, 1991
Rodney King Beating Sunday, March 3, 1991
OJ Simpson Verdict Tuesday, October 3, 1995
Atlanta Bombing Friday, July 26, 1996
Death of Princess Diana Saturday/Sunday, August 30-31, 1997 (depending on France or US)
Concorde Crash Tuesday, July 25, 2000

Election Dates:
G. W. Bush Tuesday, November 7, 2000
W. Clinton Tuesday, Nov 3, 1992 and Tuesday, November 5, 1996

When I explained to him that I could also report my recollection of what I was doing personally on those dates, he was intrigued and asked me to write those recollections down. I did so in about fifteen minutes. Some of the events of those days I'd rather not refer to, and in the paper and here as well, we just indicated that they were personal:

Monday, September 25, 1978: It was my grandmother's birthday and I had just started the 8th grade. The plane crash was a PSA flight over San Diego. A member of our Temple was on that flight.

Friday, November 21, 1980: I was in the 10th grade and I went to the Homecoming football game at my high school and then I went to Karen's house to watch Dallas. That was also the day that the MGM Grand Hotel went up in flames in Las Vegas.

Wednesday, January 16, 1991: I was watching Casper [Caspar] Weinberger on CNN and they broke in with the news that we were at war. I looked out the window and wondered how people could go on with life as usual when we were at war. I felt the same way on Tuesday 1/28/1986 when the Challenger exploded.

Sunday, March 3, 1991: Personal

Tuesday, October 3, 1995: Sitting in my den watching and waiting Friday, July 26, 1996: I was having dinner at the Daily Grill with my friend Andi and I saw a lot of people standing around the television in the bar area so I went over there to see what was going on. I could not believe it.

Sunday, August 30, 1997: My friend Robin and I went shopping at Macy's and then went to Hamburger Hamlet for dinner. After getting home, at 10 p.m., I put on The Practice on ABC and found out the princess had died.

Tuesday, July 25, 2000: I was working and read about the crash on the Internet.

Tuesday, November 7, 2000: Personal

Tuesday, Nov 3, 1992: My dad and I were so happy to vote for Clinton that I was dancing around the parking lot. We came home and my mom had bagels and lox for us to celebrate. That night I went over to my friend Stacy's house to watch his acceptance speech.

Tuesday, November 5, 1996: The family went to The Grill in Beverly Hills for dinner to celebrate [my brother] Michael's birthday which was the next day.

As you can see, the recollections I get for any given date tend to be snippets at first. When I'm given a date, I have an immediate recall of some particular thing, or a few things, that happened that day. My mind takes me right to those moments, and I in effect am "in" them again; I also feel the emotion of whatever moment has popped up. If I start to focus on recalling more, I'll "see" more and more of the day.

The fact that my memory is not only for dates and for cultural or news events but for those events combined with the events of my own life is the reason that Dr. McGaugh identified it as ...

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Price, Jill and Bart Davis:
Verlag: New York; London : Free Press, (2008)
ISBN 10: 1416561765 ISBN 13: 9781416561767
Gebraucht Anzahl: 1
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Buchbeschreibung New York; London : Free Press, 2008. 263 Seiten, wirkt ungelesen, Buch ist in sehr gutem Zustand! acts unread book is in very good condition! (Die Frau, die nichts vergessen kann: Leben mit einem einzigartigen Gedächtnis) ISBN 9781416561767 ***Sofortversand - Rechnung mit ausgewiesener Mwst. liegt bei!*** Sprache: Englisch Gewicht in Gramm: 410 gebundene Ausgabe, Hardcover/Pappeinband, 23 x 15 cm, Artikel-Nr. 103261

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