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This is Your Brain on Music: Understanding a Human Obsession [Paperback]

Daniel J. Levitin
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 May 2008
This is the first book to offer a comprehensive explanation of how humans experience music and to unravel the mystery of our perennial love affair with it. Using musical examples from Bach to the Beatles, Levitin reveals the role of music in human evolution, shows how our musical preferences begin to form even before we are born and explains why music can offer such an emotional experience.Music is an obsession at the heart of human nature, even more fundamental to our species than language. In "This Is Your Brain On Music" Levitin offers nothing less than a new way to understand it, and its role in human life.

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This is Your Brain on Music: Understanding a Human Obsession + Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain
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Product details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books; 1st Edition Thus edition (1 May 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843547163
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843547167
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 19,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"'Music seems to have an almost willful, evasive quality, defying simple explanation, so that the more we find out, the more there is to know... Daniel Levitin's book is an eloquent and poetic exploration of this paradox. There may be no simple answer or end in sight, but the ride is nonetheless a thrilling one, especially in the company of a writer who is both an accomplished musician, a hard-nosed scientist, and someone who can still look upon the universe with a sense of wonder.' Sting * Fascinating... Levitin's extremely skilled at laying out complex concepts in understandable terms... an absorbing explanation of the mechanics of why music affects us the way it does. - Jonathan O'Brien, Sunday Business Post * Endlessly stimulating. - Oliver Sacks * Despite illuminating a lot of what goes on with music this book doesn't "spoil" enjoyment - it only deepens the beautiful mystery that is music. - David Byrne, Talking Heads"

About the Author

Daniel Levitin runs the Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition, and Expertise at McGill University, Canada, where he holds the James McGill Chair. Before becoming a neuroscientist, he was a session musician, sound engineer and record producer. He has written extensively for scientific journals and music trade magazines.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
67 of 74 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dumbing Down 5 Nov 2009
This is the sort of book that looks as though it ought to be of interest to musicians because it is written by a psychologist, and of interest to psychologists because it is written by someone knowledgeable about music. It appears that Levitin has had the great benefit of working for a long time in both the music industry and in academic psychology, and one would expect him to have valuable insights into both music and psychology.

So it is all the more disappointing to find his book so lacking in depth or, for that matter, ideas. The basic - very basic - information on musical terms is fine, but do not expect either scholarship or brilliance from this book. Levitin's efforts to relieve the prevailing dulness with ill-advised attempts at humour are merely embarrassing, but his relentless name-dropping and pointless anecdotes very soon become irritating.

Do not buy this book. If you want to know about music and the brain, get Huron's book 'Sweet Anticipation' or Ani Patel's book on Music and Language. Then you will be learning from people who really know what they are on about.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Cut it in half and it might be ok 16 Mar 2010
When I first saw this book I was excited by the prospect, I am interested in musicology and thought this crossed with the private life of the brain would be an excellent read. How wrong I was.

Really the title should read "This is my brain on music" as this seems to largely be an auto-biography of Levitin's life to date with a few interesting facts he has picked up along the way added. The musical tastes of Levitin are also apparent in the reading, when he briefly mentions Schoenberg he writes like a gun has been held to his head as he was told he had to at least acknowledge that twelve-tone exists. Then back to the Beatles which at times almost feels like he is saying that they are the only band that has ever written a song to excite the brain.

When he does write the occasional interesting fact he then proceeds to beat it to death with several attempts at an explanation, an analogy or two and another anecdote. Once you think you are past the worst of it a couple of pages later he seems to start trying to explain it all over again. For me this led to several bouts of rage telling the book "YES I GET IT!"

To me this book felt like the publisher had accidentally published the first draft rather than the edited final copy. There are one or two interesting facts in the book but they are smothered by dumbed down explanations, anecdotes and Levitin's personal tastes leaving you with very little science or musicology but a rather foul taste in the mouth.
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39 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Music to my eyes... 10 Nov 2007
A very interesting explanation on what makes music sooo attractive to the vast majority of us... the first two chapters are in my opinion, heavy to read (I had to go back several times to try and get the idea); actually, in this regard I found the first statements of the author a little bit contradictory, since as he somehow explains, science (technical facts) should be explained "easily"... well, it wasn't in my opinion for the most of the beginning. After that, the book gets much lighter, much friendlier and "simple" to understand.

The way -Daniel Levitin explains- how our brain rather than "concentrate" certain functions or types of information in particular parts of our brains (as it was thought), rather "distributes" them in several to be first accumulated and then processed between all of those (and others) I found new and fascinating. Also, the property that our brains have to adapt and learn new things (tricks!) is overwhelming too... (There's hope then!), contrary to the ancient believe that as we grow old, new knowledges are difficult to learn (assimilate). Then he explains how these and other characteristics add to make music sooo enjoyable... (it is possible to live without TV, but not without a radio!).

Good book. I'm glad I ordered it!
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79 of 92 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars With a song in our heads 3 Dec 2007
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
When a rock musician, a sound engineer and a neuroscientist combine their talents to explain how we think about music, it promises to be interesting. When those three individuals are present in one man who also writes well, the result is compelling. With a strong scientific foundation - no little of that from his own work - from which to build, coupled with his production experience, Levitin has launched a new phase in the understanding of how the mind deals with the outside world. In the manner of colours we think we see, sounds are simply vibrations of air until our brain identifies and translates them for us. Without descending into arcane terms for either the brain or music, he skilfully guides us through the process of "music appreciation" - and why we do.

Musicians enter our lives more intimately than almost anybody else. They can inspire us, influence our lives in innumerable ways, and they are available at any time - virtually at our command. We welcome their presence even when we haven't consciously sought them out. Music is always a personal relationship, sometimes very intense, generating emotions perhaps hidden or suppressed. How can the movement of air molecules generate such reactions in us?

In answering that question, Levitin takes the reader on describes the path sound takes from its entry into the ear. Nerve impulses from sound have a number of paths open to them. Widely dispersed areas of the brain process the signals, further triggering a variety of reactions. Much new information about sounds and the brain's reaction to them has come to light in recent years. When the sound is music, the brain actually goes through mathematical calculations to register timbre, pitch and other musical elements.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good and interesting book.
Published 2 months ago by A Tomps
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent reading for the layperson
Full of fascinating insights into how the brain works and how it processes music. My only small gripe is the number of references to a vast range of different pieces of music... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Mr M T Toogood
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Arrived promptly and in good condition. A very useful and informative book.
Published 2 months ago by Jo Cursley
1.0 out of 5 stars It NEVER arrived !!!
It NEVER arrived !!! Still waiting after months. No notification from the supplier at all. Disturbing. Some answers would be appreciated.
Published 5 months ago by traveller
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant insight
Great book aimed at anyone with an interest. Thorough in its explanation and depth this is a great read for anyone. Really enjoyed it and will be looking for similar titles.
Published 11 months ago by courtneyraptor
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book
Very very interesting read. Really good book for someone who is just getting into music psychology like me. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Marcus Cain
2.0 out of 5 stars Not really
It seems interesting but rambles too much to hold the attention. Psycho-acoustics is fascinating stuff, but this book didn't quite light the fire.
Published 12 months ago by P. W. Menhennet
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiration
Inspire for those who love music or just simple feel music in any sense, I love the topic and for me opened up more my brain about music and its sensation.
Published 12 months ago by Siclanosilva
5.0 out of 5 stars Can't wait to read this book again
I first read 'This is Your Brain On Music' because a friend had left it out ready to re-read. Instead she lent it to me, which was wise move, as I couldn't put it down and returned... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Susan Thompson
5.0 out of 5 stars A musical revelation
As a keen listener to music and also a nascent guitarist, I found this book fascinating and informative. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Shuna Judge
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