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The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature [Kindle Edition]

Daniel J. Levitin
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $10.55
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Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

The author of the New York Times bestseller This Is Your Brain on Music reveals music's role in the evolution of human culture-and "will leave you awestruck" (The New York Times)

Daniel J. Levitin's astounding debut bestseller, This Is Your Brain on Music, enthralled and delighted readers as it transformed our understanding of how music gets in our heads and stays there. Now in his second New York Times bestseller, his genius for combining science and art reveals how music shaped humanity across cultures and throughout history.

Dr. Levitin identifies six fundamental song functions or types-friendship, joy, comfort, religion, knowledge, and love-then shows how each in its own way has enabled the social bonding necessary for human culture and society to evolve. He shows, in effect, how these "six songs" work in our brains to preserve the emotional history of our lives and species.

Dr. Levitin combines cutting-edge scientific research from his music cognition lab at McGill University and work in an array of related fields; his own sometimes hilarious experiences in the music business; and illuminating interviews with musicians such as Sting and David Byrne, as well as conductors, anthropologists, and evolutionary biologists. The World in Six Songs is, ultimately, a revolution in our understanding of how human nature evolved-right up to the iPod.



Read Daniel Levitin's posts on the Penguin Blog.


Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Charles Darwin meets the Beatles in this attempt to blend neuroscience and evolutionary biology to explain why music is such a powerful force. In this rewarding though often repetitious study by bestselling author Levitin (This Is Your Brain on Music), a rock musician turned neuroscientist, argues that music is a core element of human identity, paving the way for language, cooperative work projects and the recording of our lives and history. Through his studies, Levitin has identified six kinds of songs that help us achieve these goals: songs of friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion and love. He cites lyrics ranging from the songs of Johnny Cash to work songs, which, he says, promote feelings of togetherness. According to Levitin, evolution may have selected individuals who were able to use nonviolent means like dance and music to settle disputes. Songs also serve as memory-aids, as records of our lives and legends. Some may find Levitin's evolutionary explanations reductionist, but he lightens the science with personal anecdotes and chats with Sting and others, offering an intriguing explanation for the power of music in our lives as individuals and as a society. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Fans that have read This Is Your Brain on Music are in for another treat; newcomers to Levitin will still find much to enjoy in this consideration of music and human civilization. Levitin writes with both knowledge of neuroscience and evolutionary biology and a deep appreciation for the musician’s craft—one that will resound loudly with musicophiles. The New York Times Book Review, however, questioned some of Levitin’s “unprovable” scientific claims, and others faulted him for taking a reductionist view of evolution, shamelessly namedropping, cherry-picking songs from a select era, and failing to edit a verbose tome. Despite such flaws, most readers will find something to connect with in the book—even if it’s just one song.
Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

Product Details


Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
106 of 115 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unsupported Assertions, Anecdotes and Puffery January 19, 2009
Format:Hardcover
Like many other reviewers here I was entranced by Levitin's first book, and eagerly dug into this new one expecting more of the same. What a disappointment! One is immediately put off by the constant name-dropping like "my good friend Joni Mitchell," "Sting confided to me..." and "when I was on-stage at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium with Mel Tormé...."

Add to this the fact that Levitin makes a lot of non-obvious broad statements without offering any supporting evidence; for examples snapping fingers to music uses up cortisol (pg. 101), cavemen used songs to remember geography (pg. 108), it is more difficult to fake sincerity in music than in spoken language (pg. 141) and of course the "there are only six types of songs in the world" assertion of the title.

Finally, Levitin keeps derailing the book with long rambling personal stories, most of which have little if anything to do with his subject matter. Though amusing and humanizing they are a distraction and ultimately become another irritant.

There *is* a lot of good information in the book, and the reader learns a lot of interesting facts and ponderable hypotheses. Too bad the presentation is so obnoxious.
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41 of 48 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars nice try October 19, 2008
Format:Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed "This is Your Brain on Music" and anticipated a similar combination of witty, widely observed (pop, jazz, classical), and helpfully presented (science-for-non-specialists) material. All those qualities are present but distractingly encumbered by puffery (yes, yes, you lunch with rock stars and academic luminaries) and organization-by-digression. The dangers of first success? A timid editor? I'd wait for a revised edition.
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65 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Songs in the key of life August 24, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This fascinating book explores the powerful force music has played in shaping our common humanity. It's evolution, with a backbeat. Author Levitin makes the case that six basic types of songs have existed throughout the course of human history, all over the world. Mankind, apparently, shares a soundtrack.

The six broad categories of music are songs about friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion and love. Each has a different function, but all serve to bind us together. They make us stronger as a species.

Levitin, a musician and scientist, cites anthropologists, evolutionary biologists, neurosurgeons, psychologists, and many famous musicians in this book. He includes lyrics from a great range of songs, including "At Seventeen," "The Hokey Pokey," "I Walk the Line," "Twist and Shout," and "Log Blues" from Ren & Stimpy.

Music can be so evocative. A snippet of song can take you back to the exact moment you heard it in childhood or high school or whenever. It's like there is a direct link that exists in the human brain between music and memory.

This books tells us that Americans spend more money on music than they do on prescription drugs or sex, and the average American hears more than five hours of music per day. It's obviously important to us. After reading The World in Six Songs, you'll have a much better idea why.

Here's the chapter list:

1. Taking It from the Top or "The Hills Are Alive..."
2. Friendship or "War (What Is It Good For)?"
3. Joy or "Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut"
4. Comfort or "Before There Was Prozac, There Was You"
5. Knowledge or "I Need to Know"
6. Religion or "People Get Ready"
7. Love or "Bring `Em All In"
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing May 4, 2010
By Don65
Format:Paperback
I thought the first and last third of Levitin's first book, "This is your brain on music" were excellent. The middle third was a bit slow. Unfortunately, all of "The World in Six Songs" is slow. The book is full of preposterous statements unsupported by anything other than wild speculation. The best parts are where he repeats information he shared in in his first book. The worst parts are the rambling personal anecdotes which have nothing whatsoever to do with the purported objective of the book.

Read "This is your brain on music" - avoid "The World in Six Songs."
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34 of 41 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars unreadable exercise in ego February 8, 2009
Format:Hardcover
I keep trying to like this book, or even to get through another chapter but wading past the author's ego is just too hard. Is the best way to illustrate every point to mention that you just had lunch with Sting?

I'll grant the author's encyclopedic knowledge of songs but he insists on putting in the reader's face at every turn. Every point he makes reminds him of not one or two other songs but typically 10 or eleven other songs, which he lists, along with the fact that he's close personal friends with each of the authors.

You might think the premise of this book is the centrality of music to human evolution but the real point is to illustrate the centrality of the author's ego.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Where is the ethnomusicology? July 2, 2010
Format:Paperback
2.0 out of 5 stars Seriously unreadable, July 2, 2010
By Shannon Thornton-Walsh (Dallas, TX USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature (Paperback)
I'm giving two stars, because I didn't feel fully justified in giving one star, seeing as I've only read one quarter of the way through Levitin's book. I ordered it as a free sample from the publisher, who was promoting it as a possible secondary or optional classroom text. I was intrigued. My doctoral research was in ethnomusicology.

I started to read soon after I received the book last year but was immediately put off by one of Levitin's opening statements: "Anthropologists, archaeologists, biologists, and psychologists all study human origins, but relatively little attention has been paid to the origins of music." Huh? OK. Probably true and for good reason. Evidence for music in early human culture is overwhelming, but determining the "why" is an enterprise fraught with complexity and ambiguity. But Anthropology has two entire subfields devoted to evolution on the one hand and the study of music in culture, on the other, which seems to me to be two of the best places to start. Levitin acknowledges and draws on the first, mostly not very confidently, and ignores the second.

I lent the book to a friend and recently received it back and thought I'd push past my initial resistance. Levitin draws on cross-cultural examples to begin supporting his thesis, but not once in the entire book can I find a single reference to any of the pioneering work done by ethnomusicologists. Perhaps this is because Levitin only sourced the work of anthropologists, not music/culture specialists within that field. Why the obvious elision of the entire field of study?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Good for entertainment, OK for information
The World in Six Songs contains some good information, and some very valuable insights into the influence of music in our lives. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jake Hille
4.0 out of 5 stars Vendor good, book not so much
Took longer to arrive than I expected, funny, order something that weighs 50 lbs and you get it next day. But for a penny, wow! I'll certainly keep an eye for other books. Read more
Published 3 months ago by James Villegas
5.0 out of 5 stars Neurobiology and Music? This is your book
Levitin is consistently interesting, informative and helpful. He follows up on his earlier work and connects music to the basic human story.
Published 7 months ago by Carl O. Isaacson
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Reading for those interested in our musical heritage.
Very interesting reading. I would highly recommend this text to anyone interested in the benefits of music, particularly future educators. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Todd Hunter
5.0 out of 5 stars Qu'est Que C'est?
When I first started reading this a long time ago I couldn't get into it. This time though I got past my initial difficulties and finished it with no trouble. Read more
Published 10 months ago by C. CRADDOCK
5.0 out of 5 stars very educational
I loved the book, I teach singing and songwriting and now recommend this book to all my students and colleagues
Published 10 months ago by Anette Norgaard
5.0 out of 5 stars Levitin is really worth reading
Although one might consider the concept a bit reductionistic, it is fun to see Levitin take such a broad idea and make it so enjoyable. It's a song in itself.
Published 10 months ago by Beth McIntosh
3.0 out of 5 stars Many points to keep, some to discard
I enjoyed Levitin's first book a bit more than his second. While "This Is Your Brain on Music" has errors/room for argument, "The World in Six Songs" has many... Read more
Published 14 months ago by AJR
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
If you listen to music you won't regret reading this. Mr Levitin has a firm grip on his subject matter.
Published 18 months ago by Matthew Carter
1.0 out of 5 stars You already know everything in this book
"Music comes from and/or is about Friendship, Joy, Comfort, Knowledge, Religion, & Love."

Thats all you need to know... Read more
Published on January 9, 2012 by Peco
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More About the Author

Daniel J. Levitin is the James McGill Professor of Psychology and Music at McGill University, Montreal, where he also holds appointments in the Program in Behavioural Neuroscience, The School of Computer Science, and the Faculty of Education. An award-winning teacher, he now adds best-selling author to his list of accomplishments as "This Is Your Brain on Music" and "The World in Six Songs" were both Top 10 best-sellers, and have been translated into 16 languages. Before becoming a neuroscientist, he worked as a session musician, sound engineer, and record producer working with artists such as Stevie Wonder and Blue Oyster Cult. He has published extensively in scientific journals as well as music magazines such as Grammy and Billboard. Recent musical performances include playing guitar and saxophone with Sting, Bobby McFerrin, Rosanne Cash, David Byrne, and Rodney Crowell.

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