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Sum: Tales from the Afterlives Paperback – 24 Apr 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 142 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books; Main edition (24 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847674275
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847674272
  • Product Dimensions: 11.1 x 0.9 x 17.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (142 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,916 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"Witty, bright, sharp and unexpected . . . as surprising a book as I've read for years. Every story is a new Heaven." (Brian Eno)

"SUM is terrific. It's such a good idea that I was grinding my teeth all the way through wishing I'd thought of it first. The inventiveness, the clarity and wit of the prose, the calm air of moral understanding that pervades the whole thing, add up to something completely original. I hope Sum will be the great big hit it deserves to be." (Philip Pullman)

"SUM is an imaginative and provocative book that gives new perspectives on how to view ourselves and our place in the world." (Alan Lightman, author of EINSTEIN'S DREAM)

"Brilliantly realised, blazingly original, Sum isn't so much about the next life as this one. Eagleman's stories - parables? - a chilly reminder of our foibles and delusions." (Colin Waters Sunday Herald 2009-05-03)

"This is as much an object of desire as an actual book . . . elegant, surreal and philosophically questioning, each story from neuroscientist Eagleman offers an inventive, thought-provoking blend of science and romance . . . sly wit, ingenuity and oddly acute insight into the vagaries of the human condition." (Tina Jackson Metro 2009-04-20)

"Clever, memorable stuff." (Lottie Moggach The London Paper 2009-04-29)

"40 intriguing tales describing different heavenly scenarios . . . and all formidably imagined . . . Readers may discover much to appreciate - not least the lives they are living now, still so much better than some nightmares in these pages . . . quirky, occasionally unsettling . . . never short of new new ideas, all of them rolled out with style." (Nicholas Tucker Independent 2009-05-11)

"I suppose there could be people who dislike Canongate's latest find . . . those, dare one say it, without poetry in their souls. For the rest - the millions who even in a post-religious, secular society find themselves at unexpected moments wondering who or what God is, if he's not a little old man sitting on a cloud." (Mary Crockett Scotsman 2009-05-09)

"A clever book." (Robert Hanks Daily Telegraph 2009-05-23)

"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." (Geoff Dyer Observer 2009-06-07)

"The most thought provoking stocking filler you could hope to find: a slender volume of bite size vignettes pondering what happens after we die." (Scotsman 2009-12-06)

"It does what it says in the title - satirical, playful, troubling, inventive, thought provoking and often funny takes on possible afterlives. A complete one off. I've been buying it and giving to friends and family. Everyone is delighted. Keep by the bed and feed yourself one or two before turning out the light." (Andrew Greig Sunday Herald 2009-11-29)

"Charming, a bit whimsical, and thought-provoking." (Mark Sarvas)

"This delightful, thought-provoking little collection belongs to that category of strange, unclassifiable books that will haunt the reader long after the last page has been turned. It is full of tangential insights into the human condition and poetic thought experiments . . . full of touching moments and glorious wit of the sort one only hopes will be incopious supply on the other side." (The New York Times)

Review

Sum is terrific... The inventiveness, the clarity and wit of the prose...add up to something completely original.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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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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