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Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives [Hardcover]

David Eagleman
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)

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Book Description

17 Feb 2009
At once funny, wistful and unsettling, Sum is a dazzling exploration of unexpected afterlives—each presented as a vignette that offers a stunning lens through which to see ourselves in the here and now.  In one afterlife, you may find that God is the size of a microbe and unaware of your existence. In another version, you work as a background character in other people’s dreams. Or you may find that God is a married couple, or that the universe is running backward, or that you are forced to live out your afterlife with annoying versions of who you could have been.  With a probing imagination and deep understanding of the human condition, acclaimed neuroscientist David Eagleman offers wonderfully imagined tales that shine a brilliant light on the here and now.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 110 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Canada (17 Feb 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670069841
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670069842
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 12.7 x 19 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,989,305 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Eagleman, PHD, is a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston Texas where his research laboratory is developing a reputation for doing some of the most unusual experiments in contemporary neuroscience. He has had essays published in all manner of journals including Nature and Science. He also lectures widely and continues to be invited to speak at universities all around the world.

Product Description

Review

'This stunningly original book is little more than 100 pages long. You can get through it in an hour, but you'd be mad to hurry, and you will certainly want to return to it many times ... Sum has the unaccountable, jaw-dropping quality of genius. It seems exquisitely adapted to fill the contemporary longing for a kind of secular holy book.' Observer --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

Review

Sum is terrific... The inventiveness, the clarity and wit of the prose...add up to something completely original. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Graveyard of the Gods 21 Nov 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Taken at face value, as a kind of fantasy thought-experiment succintly exploring the sheer strangeness of the concept of death itself, the book is by turns witty, imaginative, playful, and occasionally poetic. Each tale works independently in terms of its individual logic, and overall there is a real cumulative pleasure taken in the notion of comparing 40 'invented' afterlives. Some of the ideas are extensions of already existing fantasy and science-fiction lore to some extent, and religious ideas also get included - paradoxes and all - but what becomes clear,as it should, is that all of this is about how we actually value our lives, and really has nothing to do with the afterlife at all. It is essentially secular in its free play with ideas, levelling the profound alongside the trivial, and the 'deep' with the light.

Apparently some religious critics have found this book shallow and undermining of the seriousness of certain religious ideas. As someone who firmly believes religious afterlife 'hope and judgement' conceits are human-foible infected fantasies anyway, I find the humanity and playfulness exhibited here actually a confirmation of one the best aspects of human nature - inquisitivity. God forbid Eagleman uses the imagination God apparently gave him in the first place.
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64 of 70 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Press pause... 12 Jun 2010
Format:Paperback
This little book has already caused quite a sensation in the publishing world, and for good reason too. And you can read why from the blurb on the back of the book. It did generate a variety of effects for me. Each short tale leaves a slightly different taste to the previous one. Some you will want to savour and allow the flavours to linger, whilst others may have no affect at all. Not only do you get such a wide variety of ideas and concepts, but the prose is delicious! Writers generally acknowledge that the short story is more of a challenge. These are not really short stories, more ideas for films or something, but the writing is superb.

They read quite like modern parables, with the effect of making you slow down and reflect. You can't help but put the book down after reading one and stare out of the window for a while and allow some re-arranging of the auld internal furniture. And you think of how life could be and then you think of how life is. And it's not so bad at all. And you just might catch a glimpse of wonder at the mystery of it all.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars thought provoking 15 Jan 2012
Format:Paperback
I loved this little book. Eagleman has such a great imagination taking us on whimsical hypothesis that stay with us long after putting the book down. The stories are more philosophy than fantasy and put forward better thought out scenarios than entire catechisms of so called Religions. You can read it all the way thought or just pick it up every now and then and read one little story. I found my mind returning to the stories during the day.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind Expanding 24 July 2012
By Genome
Format:Paperback
This is a work of fiction, but it's no story. It's a series of short stories, but it's no anthology. It is exactly what it says in the title; 40 tales, none longer than 4 pages, offering wonderfully imaginative, creative scenarios to posit an exact nature of the afterlife. In so doing it touches on our notions of God, reality, science, knowledge and the nature of our existence here on earth.

The book plays with notions of scale, humans being dwarfed by giant divinities, or us humans dwarfing microscopic numinous beings. Human beings as recording devices for other beings scientific experiments, an echo of Douglas Adams' joyous playfulness here, so that the afterlife is a debriefing room. Most of the stories see a schism between us mortals and the gods awaiting us in the afterlife. The gods who have set us in motion on earth to whatever end, but where we have gone our own way, or fallen into unpredictable sideroads, usually around love. In "Narcissus" the 'Cartographers' who set us in motion with our eyes, ears and noses as sensory recording devices, despair that we use thelenses of our eyes for scutinising not the landscape for their maps, but into the eye lenses of our felllow species, "an ironic way to trivilaise the technology". In "Quantum" every life choice you turned down you can now act out simultaneously in the afterlife. You protest this is too much to grapple with so the angel offers you a simpole scenarion, you locked in a room with just your lover which you gladly accept: "You are simultaneously engaged in her conversation and thinking about something else... she worships you and wonders what she might have missed with someone else. 'Thank you', you tell the angel. 'This is what I'm used to'".
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41 of 48 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Firmament 7 Feb 2010
Format:Paperback
This book has been garnering a host of admirers, from writers such as Alexander McCall Smith and Phillip Pullman to commentators from the heavier end of the celebrity spectrum such as Brian Eno and Stephen Fry.

There are clearly many within the forty `tales' that are stunningly original, witty and laced with wisdom. The subtitle and all the reviews outline the novel structure and conceit of the work, namely very short accounts - one to three pages each - riffing on different takes on the `afterlife' and by way of that, God, the purpose of life, philosophical, psychological, theological or political conundrums.

The notion, for example, that much of our existence takes `place in the eyes, ears and fingertips of others' that, once one has left the earth, is `stored in scattered heads around the globe' playfully elaborates on themes that have already occupied the `ologies' and isms' of more than a few sombre academics.

The main reason that these undoubted qualities do not lead to my doling out the five star accolade concerns the cumulative effect of these forty tales being collected within one volume. I can see how each short piece would be a star turn as a regular feature in a journal or a literate magazine, where reading one would definitely whet my appetite for the appearance of the next, one week, one month or whatever the publication interval was, later. As a compendium however, I found myself eventually wearying of them, mainly because of the way the format of self contained brevity created for me a repetitiveness that diminished the freshness and distinctiveness of the individual pieces. By about three quarters of the way through I was hungry for a sense of development, the fleshing out of a narrative or the elaboration of a set of ideas.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book I've read in ages
This book reminded me of the first time I read Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles: being shown the same world through many different angles and scenarios. Read more
Published 3 days ago by ALS
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning
I want to buy more books from the same author! A book that is so different and doesn't half make you think.
Published 9 days ago by Mr. A. R. Tinkler
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful book
Charming suggestions of the after-life. This book is a great read for believer and atheists alike, (I myself am the latter). Read more
Published 14 days ago by Battalion_Brod
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly fantastic
One of the best books I have ever read. Each story is beautifully imaginative, some are funny, some are thought provoking, and are desperately sad, however, all of them leave you... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Tim
4.0 out of 5 stars thought provoking philosophy on the afterlife
Bite sized and moorish with misdirection and a melancholic atmosphere. A great book when you're in the mood to pontificate over life's follies and grandeurs. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Curt
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking
This book essentially is a series of possible views of the afterlife from a number of philosophical, religious and non-religious perspectives. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Ruby T
2.0 out of 5 stars Book good, service not
The book is excellent, the quality good however it took almost a month to arrive. I was told it would arrive within 5 days. It arrived too late for the purpose I bought it for. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Peggy
2.0 out of 5 stars Sum
Interesting book but after a few visions of heaven it became a bit dull. Didn't finish the entire book I'm sorry to say
Published 7 months ago by Joolz
4.0 out of 5 stars Curious collection of psycho-philosophical thought experiments
As others have said, this is a collection not so much of short stories as of brief thought experiments on what we might discover after death. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Janet Gibbs
4.0 out of 5 stars like it
Good humorous read. I enjoyed this small thin book and passed it on to a friend as light easy reader.
Published 9 months ago by Isha mckenzie-mavinga
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