Customer Reviews: Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives
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Showing 1-10 of 24 reviews(3 star). Show all reviews
on April 12, 2010
This is a short book of 40 tales expousing Eagleman's 'Possibilian' (a neologism he has coined) view of afterlife. Possibilianism is predicated on the assumption that we know far too much to believe in standard religion anymore, given that many core religious texts were written by sand dwelling shepherd type people who knew little outside village, crop and flock, let alone science and metaphysics; and far too little to commit to full blown atheism - given the vast range and scale of the universe, as recent scientific research is uncovering.

Fact is, the wider mysteries of life cannot be solved. So this leaves plenty of scope for imagination. What if, in the aferlife, you meet all alternative versions of yourself - people who took the path you didn't take, versions of yourself who worked a little harder, who pursued that girl a little more forcefully. How would that feel? What if, in the afterlife, you meet God, but he is not the all powerful beast of the Christian religion but a rather confused man who realises the game is up - humans have outsmarted him on all his big conceits, they know more than he ever expected and he can't play the same fear trick as he did in the Old Testament?

Sum is 40 such stories. Some are brilliant - such as story one, where all your life episodes are rearranged in compartmentalised order: 3 years of showering, 2 weeks of pain, three months of looking for stuff etc. Some are quirky neuroscience ideas that don't quite fly off the page.

If you want to find out more about this possiblianism idea, I suggest both reading this book and looking at the clip on Will Self's website of Will Self interviewing David Eagleman about this book, and ideas about the afterlife. Eagleman comes across as an eager young pup who, at his stage of life (38 years old), can happily contemplate the afterlife as a whimsical intellectual exercise. He is not yet old enough to feel the dark chill of extinction, and the personal realisaton that the sands of one's own time on earth are about to run out.
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on April 4, 2009
I heard and interview with the author on the radio and was intrigued enough to pick it up. It is a collection of vignettes each describing a possible afterlife. While they are all thoroughly thought out, they are not very long. I found some quite profound and provocative, many amusingly interesting, and a few somewhat lame.
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on November 3, 2013
I haven't finished reading it, but I will say this: it started out with a bang but as I've gotten more into it, it's becoming somewhat boring. I plan to keep reading and hopefully, it will get better. If it does, I'll update this review.
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VINE VOICEon September 7, 2014
Is this `sum', I wonder, an English noun meaning `total', or is it a Latin verb meaning `I am' or `I exist', or are we not supposed to know which it is, if either? This collection of small vignettes is certainly very clever and accomplished as well as being nicely written, but I would have difficulty in characterising it as imaginative. The flip side to the fluent obverse of this coin is that it is all just slightly, or more than slightly, facile. Here are forty little items taking up two or three pages each of nice clear print in this edition (the editors specifically draw attention to it), and I sense that given a little more time this author could have stretched that total (or sum) to four hundred or forty thousand without subjecting himself to any degree of strain. It just seems to come to him naturally, the way fruit comes naturally to the tree that produces it. Musically minded readers may be reminded of that very image as applied to himself by the composer Saint-Saens. He could turn out his polished and agreeable works without effort and seemingly without any detectable limit or restriction; but accomplished, stylish, clever and appealing as they were, what they also were was superficial.

The strap-line `tales from the afterlife' is a reasonably accurate summary of the contents so long as you don't press it too exactly. Afterlives are usually a condition reached by human beings (Mr Eagleman please note - `humans' is a solecism), but animals share it in one of the little stories here, which is certainly fine by me. Most of the narratives relate to humanity as advertised on the cover, but several raise their eyes towards the fate of the various deities themselves. `Graveyards of the Gods' is a kind of miniature Goetterdaemmerung, as an obvious example; `Apostasy' finds space for pity reaching out to the solitary Creator in Her loneliness; and `Blueprints' actually startled me by reverting to the cliché that not all the analysis performed by the Rewarders and Punishers can identify the essential taste of wine or the sense of being in love, these being human experiences that they fail to share.

Otherwise it is mainly clever little propositions of a half-surreal kind. It is many years now since I read any of the more surrealist kinds of science fiction or science fantasy, but although I could not pinpoint any exact resemblances between those and Mr Eagleman's scenarios, I sensed a certain familiarity in the kind of thinking I was encountering. `Scenarios' almost overstates the case, I'm inclined to think. Mr Eagleman has encroached on the space properly occupied by serious evaluation of what might constitute some afterlife and filled it, or at least filled a corner of it, with intellectual doodling. These days we don't seem to hear or read much about, or by, Olaf Stapledon, and that is our great loss. If you don't know him already, let me suggest Odd John or the terrifying Star Maker for ideas of what certain alternative outlooks might be for us. If Mr Eagleman ever feels up to making a bit more effort I shall certainly read what he offers us with interest. Until then I thank him for an interesting but hardly absorbing couple of hours' reading.
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on February 21, 2015
This book was definitely different than anything I've ever picked up to read, besides philosophy books that I hated in college. With that being said, there were times I was bored, times I was like what the heck is going on, and times I was really impressed with how the author's mind works to be able come up with such ideas, eccentric as some were. I did get bored while reading this as after awhile things seemed repetitive so I had to take a break for awhile. As I mentioned, some ideas were really out there while some I'm still not really sure what I read because the concepts seemed way too scientific for my taste so I think I zoned out. I felt like I should have taken notes to remember everything. However, some ideas were very interesting and some funny which makes reading them enjoyable. The book is very well written but I feel 40 stories seemed to overlap and maybe two stand out in my mind (but that's probably just me as I have always had a problem with the reading comprehension parts and maintaining focus on exams) :). Overall, an interesting read and a different look at the afterlife as we all know it.
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on April 13, 2013
Knowing Eagleman's reputation as a possibilian, I had hoped these stories would blow my mind with creativity and challenge my understanding of human perception. Some of them are a lot of fun and start down that road, but none of them truly break out of a very conventional understanding of how the self might experience the afterlife as some sort of extension of the living body. That being said it was still a fun, easy read.
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on May 29, 2014
This little book can be a fun read in small doses. If you try to read many vignettes one after the other, the scenarios blend together. Honestly, at first I thought it was supposed to be a collection of stories from people who had had visions or near death experiences. Then I realized it was fiction, but I thought it was a compilation from several writers collected by one editor around a theme. But all the stories are by David Eagleman himself. Why did one person need to come up with so many diverse, awkward scenarios? The details are different in each, of course, but the tone of each of them seems to be bumbling and flippant, cynical and skeptical, and simultaneously whimsical and bleak. There does not seem to be a clear philosophical theme or any explicit theological view, aside from the author seeing God as a rather hapless incompetent being. The stories are not deeply reflective, philosophical, or theological, so if that is what you go in expecting, this work will be sorely disappointing. I went in expecting varied viewpoints from different authors and was a little disappointed on that count. Recognize that it is one imagination making clever guesses, and not for any real purpose, just to tell some stories, and it can be a fun little read. The stories are short easy reads, and he is a clever writer. Some--maybe most-- of the scenarios end abruptly with no wind-down or wrap up.
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on March 17, 2015
Didn't read reviews enough to realize these aren't "after life" stories as in NDEs. Hence, book is not what I expected.

More in the style of "The Shack" by Wm. Paul Young, in which God/Jesus/H.S. are surmised to be unusual manifestations of humans, is this book.
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on September 22, 2014
David is rather brilliant writing about time but not so much about death.
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on June 16, 2009
SUM: FORTY TALES FROM THE AFTERLIVES BY DAVID EAGLEMAN: There is one absolute certainty in this life and that is that we are all going to die, at some time. Battles, wars, and crusades have been waged and fought for days, years, and even centuries over what exactly happens when we shuffle off this mortal coil and . . .

From David Eagleman, who heads the Laboratory of Perception and Action at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas and is the founder of the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law, comes a unique and unusual book called SUM: Forty Tales From the Afterlives. With a strong cover quote from Philip Pullman, SUM presets forty "What ifs?" as Eagleman ponders the many possibilities of what might exist in the next life, if there is one. For some it would be a fantasy come true, for others a nightmare; a personal heaven, or a feared hell.

Eagleman approaches the book from a scientific point of view, analyzing each possible afterlife in an empirical way and weighing its validity: some entries are short, some are long; some have a lesson to teach, others propose a moral at the victim's expense. And what can the reader take from SUM? Don't expect to be convinced one way or another from Eagleman on whether there really is an afterlife. It is a collection of entertaining stories that at the very least will stimulate the intellect into dreaming of another world.
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