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Momentous Events, Vivid Memories

Momentous Events, Vivid Memories

David B. Pillemer

ISBN 9780674004184

Publication date: 09/15/2000

The bombing of Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President Kennedy, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger: every generation has unforgettable events, the shared memory of which can create fleeting intimacy among strangers. These public memories, combined with poignant personal moments--the first day of college, a baseball game with one's father, praise from a mentor--are the critical shaping events of individual lives.

Although experimental memory studies have long been part of empirical psychology, and psychotherapy has focused on repressed or traumatizing memories, relatively little attention has been paid to the inspiring, touching, amusing, or revealing moments that highlight most lives. What makes something unforgettable? How do we learn to share the significance of memories?

David Pillemer's research, brought together in this gracefully written book, extends the current study of narrative and specific memory. Drawing on a variety of evidence and methods--cognitive and developmental psychology, cross-cultural study, psychotherapy case studies, autobiographies and diaries--Pillemer elaborates on five themes: the function of memory; how children learn to construct and share personal memories; memory as a complex interactive system of image, emotion, and narrative; individual and group differences in memory function and performance; and how unique events linger in memory and influence lives. A provocative last chapter, full of striking examples, considers potential variations in memory across gender, culture, and personality. Momentous Events, Vivid Memories is itself a compelling and memorable book.


  • We all remember, of that there can be no doubt. Whether we remember accurately or inaccurately, in detail or in abstract, are questions that researchers have investigated for many years. However, there is another, more fundamental question: why do we remember at all?...Pillemer teases out these issues and they inevitably lead to a consideration of why we, as a species, have these rather curious mental representations. For Pillemer, part of the answer lies in his suggestion that autobiographical memories and the ability to have them provide a certain sort of social intelligence that could not be delivered in any other way...Autobiographical memories are the things that ground the self, and they ground it in the past. The classification of memories in this book provides a thoughtful insight into how this grounding might take place.

    —Martin Conway, Nature


  • David B. Pillemer is Professor of Psychology at Wellesley College.

Book Details

  • 256 pages
  • 6 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press