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Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives (2009)

by David Eagleman

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8115411,231 (4.05)76
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Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
Six-word review: Life glimpsed as if from beyond.

Extended review: In 110 small pages, author and neuroscientist Eagleman treats us to forty vignettes displaying perspectives on life as if seen in a rear-view mirror.

This is not a book about religion or spirituality, and it does not summon us to believe, but rather to be aware of our lives in present time. Each of these small gems is both fanciful and philosophical, some silly and some profound, all of them out of the ordinary by either a little or a lot.

What if the repetitive actions of our lives--showering, standing in line, signing our names--were performed not intermittently but each in one long, unbroken sequential turn? What if the molecules that make up our bodies missed being part of the old gang once it's broken up and redistributed? What if we were invented as computing machines to enable some lower form of intelligence to discover the answers to their big questions? These interesting speculations on the cosmic mysteries, from two to four pages apiece, are like sparklers on the Fourth of July: not starbursts that light up the sky and awe the multitude, perhaps, but entertaining by ones and twos, small enough that we can handle them and still feel that we've played a modest part in the greater show.

The originality of Eagleman's perceptions and their accessible presentation on this miniature scale make Sum impossible to rank alongside 800-page novels and weighty works of scholarship. I'm giving it three and a half "I really liked it" stars without reflecting any regard or disregard toward comparable works, of which I can't think of any. ( )
  Meredy | Apr 21, 2014 |
I have heard about the author, neuroscientist and philosopher David Eagleman, before because his nonfiction work, Incognito, is currently on display at my local bookstore. However, I became really impressed with Eagleman when he spoke at the Brooklyn Academy of Music where he discussed dreams and perception while we watched the 2010 movie Inception.

During the Q&A portion, he discussed Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives and it got me curious. I'm glad it did because Sum is amazing! In Sum, Eagleman describes 40 short versions of afterlives ranging from a fast moving quark, encountering Gods who are not as intelligent as us, Us literally being Actors in real life, Us who are high processing cameras for Gods known as Cartographers, and a giant reversal of life, itself.

My favorites were Metamorphosis, Mary, Sum, Graveyard of the Gods, Narcissus, and Death Switch. My only complaint is that the tales were too short! I wanted more and I would have loved more but I guess "it's sheer elegance in its simplicity." ( )
  Y2Ash | Apr 16, 2014 |
I have heard about the author, neuroscientist and philosopher David Eagleman, before because his nonfiction work, Incognito, is currently on display at my local bookstore. However, I became really impressed with Eagleman when he spoke at the Brooklyn Academy of Music where he discussed dreams and perception while we watched the 2010 movie Inception.

During the Q&A portion, he discussed Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives and it got me curious. I'm glad it did because Sum is amazing! In Sum, Eagleman describes 40 short versions of afterlives ranging from a fast moving quark, encountering Gods who are not as intelligent as us, Us literally being Actors in real life, Us who are high processing cameras for Gods known as Cartographers, and a giant reversal of life, itself.

My favorites were Metamorphosis, Mary, Sum, Graveyard of the Gods, Narcissus, and Death Switch. My only complaint is that the tales were too short! I wanted more and I would have loved more but I guess "it's sheer elegance in its simplicity." ( )
  Y2Ash | Apr 16, 2014 |
I have heard about the author, neuroscientist and philosopher David Eagleman, before because his nonfiction work, Incognito, is currently on display at my local bookstore. However, I became really impressed with Eagleman when he spoke at the Brooklyn Academy of Music where he discussed dreams and perception while we watched the 2010 movie Inception.

During the Q&A portion, he discussed Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives and it got me curious. I'm glad it did because Sum is amazing! In Sum, Eagleman describes 40 short versions of afterlives ranging from a fast moving quark, encountering Gods who are not as intelligent as us, Us literally being Actors in real life, Us who are high processing cameras for Gods known as Cartographers, and a giant reversal of life, itself.

My favorites were Metamorphosis, Mary, Sum, Graveyard of the Gods, Narcissus, and Death Switch. My only complaint is that the tales were too short! I wanted more and I would have loved more but I guess "it's sheer elegance in its simplicity." ( )
  Y2Ash | Apr 16, 2014 |
Extremely boring and bordering on sacrilege in my humble opinion. Surprised to see all the great reviews this book has. ( )
  wallerdc | Mar 26, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
Eagleman will find Sum a hard act to follow.
added by Katya0133 | editNew Scientist, Liz Else (Jul 4, 2009)
 
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.
 
The best stories in Sum remind us that it is natural to want to know our place in the scheme of things. The book is a scripture of sorts, but because each myth contradicts the last, it is not a dogmatic collection.
added by Katya0133 | editNature, Hoffmann Jascha (Apr 30, 2009)
 
Yet while Mr. Eagleman squeezes from his tales a trite message about life, his many passing observations -- especially those concerning time and space -- convey sharp insights about how we think about death.
added by Katya0133 | editWall Street Journal, Andrew Stark (Feb 13, 2009)
 
Eagleman’s engaging mixture of dark humor, witty quips, and unsettling observations about the human psyche should engage a readership extending from New Age buffs to amateur philosophers.
added by Katya0133 | editBooklist, Carl Hays (Feb 1, 2009)
 
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In the afterlife you relive all your experiences, but this time with the events reshuffled into a new order: all the moments that share a quality are grouped together.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307389936, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:27:37 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"A clever little book by a neuroscientist translates lofty concepts of infinity and death into accessible human terms. What happens after we die? Eagleman wonders in each of these brief, evocative segments. Are we consigned to replay a lifetime's worth of accumulated acts, as he suggests in Sum, spending six days clipping your nails or six weeks waiting for a green light? Is heaven a bureaucracy, as in Reins, where God has lost control of the workload? Will we download our consciousnesses into a computer to live in a virtual world, as suggested in Great Expectations, where God exists after all and has gone through great trouble and expense to construct an afterlife for us? Or is God actually the size of a bacterium, battling good and evil on the battlefield of surface proteins, and thus unaware of humans, who are merely the nutritional substrate? Mostly, the author underscores in Will-'o-the-Wisp, humans desperately want to matter, and in afterlife search out the ripples left in our wake. Eagleman's turned out a well-executed and thought-provoking book" -- Publishers Weekly.… (more)

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Three editions of this book were published by Canongate Books.

Editions: 1847674275, 1847674283, 1847678971

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