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.