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Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives Hardcover – 17 Feb 2009

118 customer reviews

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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: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 917,669 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.

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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

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 49 people found the following review helpful By The Aging Forehead on 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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Paula Sharkey on 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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Genome on 24 July 2012
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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64 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Urban Scrawl on 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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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Francis Mitchell VINE VOICE on 22 Nov. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'd heard the author advocating `possibilism' on Radio Four's `The Museum of Curiosity' and I was intrigued, the Stephen Fry splash quote on the front cover was encouraging so I bought this book only to have the most disappointing reading experience for many years. For example, Jostein Gaarder's, `Sophie's World' manages to pack more revelation, knowledge and questioning into most individual pages than `Sum' manages in the whole book.

One of the biggest problems is the repetitive use of a conceit along the lines of `you may think this but actually it is that' which only works once or twice. Most of the time you arrive at this point with a standard set of questions drawn from mainstream thinking, all of which are more interesting than Eagleman's and none of which he answers most of the time. An exception to this is `Great Expectations' which I did find interesting. Unfortunately such novel thinking and writing was too infrequent to recommend this work.
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