From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. 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. (Feb.)
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A slender volume of bite-size vignettes, Sum appears to be a whimsical novelty, amusing for idle perusal but quickly forgotten. In it, neuroscientist Eagleman offers 40 fates that may await us in the afterlife. A close reading of each carefully measured chapter provides an insight into human nature that is both poignant and sobering. In one afterlife, you relive all your experiences in carefully categorized groups: sleeping 30 years straight, sitting five months on the toilet, spending 200 days in the shower, and so forth. In another, you can be whatever you want, including a horse that forgets its original humanity. There are afterlives where you meet God, in one a God who endlessly reads Frankenstein, lamenting the tragic lot of creators; in another a God, female this time, in whose immense corpus earth is a mere cell. 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. --Carl Hays