Rarely can I feel that I should have paid more for a book. Many books are interesting or entertaining and that has value, but it is a rare book that I can look back on and say that it was clearly a net financial positive. I can say just that about Memorize the Faith by Dr. Kevin Vost. Dr.Vost also wrote the excellent Fit for Eternal Life, a guide for Christian health and fitness focused on the High Intensity Training weightlifting method. His specialty is taking his secular talents, such as weightlifting and psychology, and applying them to the practice of the Catholic faith. This has lead Dr. Vost down interesting roads.
Memorize the Faith teaches the reader a memorization technique and applies it to an assortment of core concepts and facts from the Catholic Church. Applying Dr. Vost’s methods, you quickly master the Ten Commandments, the tenants of the faith, the beatitudes, a litany of historical saints from each century, and much more.
To do this, Dr. Vost constructed a “mind castle” for the reader to store memories. Dr. Vost traces the origins of this technique to ancient Greeks and what they called the method of loci. Each location in your castle corresponds to a separate memory. The more unique the image associated with the location in the castle, the easier it will be to remember. So when you think of a gun on the wall with a huge pad lock, you remember “thou shall not murder.” All the locations in the castle are in a particular order, so you remember the facts in the order that they belong. This simple technique is incredibly effective.
Towards the end of the book, Dr. Vost gets into some more advanced memorization techniques for remembering numbers and phrases. For numbers this involves assigning letter sounds to each number and remembering images with the number’s associated sound. I found this tricky, but I probably need to put some more time into it to get it right.
After reading Memorize the Faith, it was clear to me that memorization gets a bad rap. It is easy to write off motivation as being in opposition to understanding, but, in reality, the two concepts go hand in hand. A memorized framework makes it easier to understand a topic because you don’t have to constantly refer to reference materials. To a Catholic, memorization of core concepts is very helpful when you examine your conscious and look for ways to improve.
After reading the book and memorizing all the Catholic facts that it contains, I had no trouble thinking of other uses for it. My first task was to pass the bar exam, a feat that is heavily memorization based. In addition to the pricey bar review course that I attended, I used Dr. Vost’s memory castle to memorize a ton of legal facts for use on the exam. I crammed the memory castle full of piles of legal factoids and pulled them back from my memory on long walks around town. On the day of the exam, I did a memory dump and emptied rooms in my memory castle when the situation presented itself. This was great on the essay segments where you really just need to show how much you know to the bar examiners. I didn’t touch a flash card or do an excessive amount of preparation and passes the exam easily. Thank you very much Kevin Vost.
I have also used the memory castle to great effect in public speaking. Instead of an outline, I will sometimes just make a room in the memory castle with my key facts and go from there. It really makes it sound like you are an expert in whatever you are talking about and it doesn’t take a lot more time than making an outline. I’d like to get better at using the techniques the Dr. Vost introduced to remember numbers and phrases because that could be used to great effect by adding dates and quotes to a speech.
My only criticism of the book is that I would have preferred if the memory castle in the book had ten items in each room. The first room has ten items for the Ten Commandments, but after that the numbering is based on whatever facts are being addressed. This limited the application of the memory castle because it doesn’t work well when you want to memorize numbered facts beyond ten, for example the presidents of the United States.
Memorize the Faith is a valuable book for anyone interested in improving their memorization ability and growing in knowledge of the Catholic faith. Dr. Vost’s work embraces the spirit of the new evangelization by Christianizing secular techniques and using them to “up our game” as Christians. To be honest, this book is so valuable from a purely practical standpoint that I would recommend it to any reader, Catholic or not.