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Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives (original 2009; edition 2009)

by David Eagleman

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793None11,576 (4.05)73
Member:rightantler
Title:Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives
Authors:David Eagleman
Info:Vintage (2009), Kindle Edition, 107 pages
Collections:Electronic Books, To read, Your library
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Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman (2009)

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Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
Extremely boring and bordering on sacrilege in my humble opinion. Surprised to see all the great reviews this book has. ( )
  wallerdc | Mar 26, 2014 |
These forty short stories speculate the forms an afterlife might take. They are conceptual, thought-provoking, quirky, and often quite poetic. In length they remind me of Etgar Keret's stories, but in tone they conjure up hints of Italo Calvino's works. I enjoyed the brevity of the tales, and I think the author David Eagleman has a style that is both lyrical and compact, but I couldn't help but wonder how much more resonance some of the stories might achieve if their concepts had been expanded. This is all to say that I would happily read more of his work, and I hope that he attempts something in a longer form, because I thoroughly enjoyed these tales. ( )
  phredfrancis | Feb 8, 2014 |
Open this slim, delightful, and clever book and take a journey inside the mind of David Eagleman, a remarkable modern-day renaissance man. Eagleman is a brilliant, accomplished neuroscientist who also happens to have a B. A. in British and American literature. He has both a fierce love for literature and an insatiable scientific curiosity. He is also the kind of all-around normal type of guy who makes a stand-out charming guest on “The Colbert Report.” This background is a marvelous brew and makes any journey through his gifted brain a unique intellectual delight.

In this book, Eagleman sets his prodigious creative genius to the task of imagining a set of forty different fates that might await us in the afterlife. These forty vignettes are fantasies; he’s not serious. It’s probably best to think of them as “thought experiments.” Certainly, most were done for fun; however, in some cases, along the way, some significant and profound ideas are uncovered.

The book is only 128 pages, but it is one of those svelte beauties that is best read a little at a time; in fact, if you try to read too many of these brief narratives in one sitting, the vignettes start to fade and lose their luster. Eagleman is a powerful prose stylist; he has obviously read a great deal of fine literature and knows how to put words together effectively. Many of the tales would be very entertaining if read out loud at a social gathering.

Because Eagleman is a scientist, it is not surprising that many of the forty afterlife narratives contain parodies of well-accepted scientific research processes; they are like insider jokes. Scientists will see themselves in these vignettes and laugh at their hubris.

I’m glad I have this work in electronic form on my Kindle. I have a feeling that I’ll enjoy revisiting these essays from time to time when I need something brief, clever, and whimsical to fill my time.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone with an inquisitive mind and an offbeat sense of humor.

[You might wonder how I know so much about the author. It is because I am in the process of researching and writing a report on his life and achievements for a class I’m taking on the book, “This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking.” I recommend that book, too!] ( )
1 vote msbaba | Dec 23, 2013 |
This is not a book meant to be rushed. Perhaps I will pick this up again one day and read an afterlife a day until I reach the end. Then I could give it the extra star it probably deserves. Or even better, I could lean over to a friend after each story and say, "What do you think about this ?" ( )
  diovival | Oct 14, 2013 |
[Sum:Forty Tales from the Afterlives] by [[David Eagleman] is a one of a kind collection of parables about what happens after you die. The title comes from Descartes' "Cogito ergo sum", I think therefore I am, and the good news is in these stories you get to keep thinking and am-ing after death. In one, the paradisal afterlife is equally unsatisfying to everyone: "The Communists are baffled and irritated, because they have finally achieved their perfect society, but only by the help of a God in whom they don't want to believe. The meritocrats are abashed that they're stuck in eternity in an incentiveless system with a bunch of pinkos. The conservatives have no penniless to disparage; the liberals have no downtrodden to promote." How terrible! In another the religious warring among true believers continues, which apparently is much more satisfying.

He comes at you from mind-opening angles. In one you get to relive your life by categories of activities, rather than sequential time, so you spend six days clipping your nails, 18 months standing in line, and so on. In another you get to choose your next incarnation, e.g. as a horse, and you'd better choose wisely. Another one that caught my fancy is his positing that we are sophisticated machines created by a stupider race to help answer their questions about life. However, they have trouble understanding how we live our lives and what our answers to high level questions mean - which then gets compared to our relationship with the sophisticated machines we have created in this life.

Each of these very short stories in an approximately 100 page paperback made me stop and think a while about its message. Eagleman's a neuroscientist, and the closest comparison I can think of to this book is physics professor [[Alan Lightman]]'s great book of short story-fables, [Einstein's Dreams], in which Einstein dreams of places where time acts differently than the way we conceive it. Here, [[Eagleman]] is able to poke humbling holes in our foibles and assumptions through his stories of what the afterlife may be.

I saw one reviewer called this a work of genius, and that fits. Thanks to Megan for recommending this one. ( )
5 vote jnwelch | Jul 12, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 49 (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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