May 2008

When memories become burdens

By Jill Price
Review by
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What did you have for breakfast this morning? How about on June 11, 1997? You probably can't answer that one. But Jill Price can. If you give her any date from 1980 on, she can tell you not only what she had for breakfast, but every detail of the day—even the day of the week.

The Woman Who Can't Forget tells the story of a most remarkable memory—a memory so complete scientists have never recorded one like it. Price's recall extends back as far as 1974 with amazing clarity. She can even remember events from her 18th month in vivid detail. But if that kind of memory is a blessing, The Woman Who Can't Forget reveals that the blessing is decidedly mixed. Price's memory is perfect at recalling the emotions of her life as well as the facts. Even as she remembers pleasant experiences of love and happiness, she also cannot forget the most minor mistakes, or moments of loss, embarrassment, sorrow or shame. Her struggle to forget led Price to Dr. James McGaugh, a scientist in the field of memory research. Intrigued, Dr. McGaugh and his colleagues at the University of California, Irvine, studied Price's abilities, confirming the astounding accuracy of her memory and discovering new insights into just how human memory works. Price and Bart Davis have skillfully placed Price's life experiences within the context of that science. Through Price's story, the book becomes a window into the inner workings of the mind, posing intriguing questions and answering others. Why do we remember? Why do we forget? How much do our memories alter over time? Do our minds truly retain the full scope of an experience, or do we reconstruct it every time we "remember"?

The Woman Who Can't Forget is fascinating, whether dealing with the details of Price's life or with the science of the brain, offering glimpses not only into the mysteries of memory but into emotional struggles like depression, anger, forgiveness and even growing up. At times astonishing, at times moving, Price's story is one you won't soon forget. 

Howard Shirley is a writer based in Franklin, Tennessee.

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The Woman Who Can’t Forget

The Woman Who Can’t Forget

By Jill Price
Free Press
ISBN 9781416561767

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