- Paperback: 128 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; 1st edition (January 12, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780307389930
- ISBN-13: 978-0307389930
- ASIN: 0307389936
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 333 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #19,079 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives Paperback – January 12, 2010
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"Eagleman is a true original. Read Sum and be amazed."—Time Magazine
“You will not read a more dazzling book this year than David Eagleman's Sum. If you read it and aren't enchanted I will eat 40 hats.” --Stephen Fry
“Delightful, thought-provoking… full of touching moments and glorious wit.”—Alexander McCall Smith, The New York Times Book Review
"Bracing, provocative, fun. . . . It challenges and teases as it spins out different parables of possibility."--Houston Chronicle
"This is a scientist and exceptionally talented writer using the idea of the afterlife to reflect on our innermost fears and desires and also as a way of dissecting how we live." —Tampa Tribune
“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. It is full of tangential insights into the human condition and poetic thought experiments . . . . It is also full of touching moments and glorious wit of the sort one only hopes will be in copious supply on the other side.”—The New York Times
"Teeming, writhing with imagination."--Los Angeles Times
"David Eagleman's Sum envisions a multiplicity of afterlives: pasts relived in shuffle mode, cast in the dreams of others, and dictated by our credit card reports.”—Vanity Fair
"Imaginative and inventive." —Wall Street Journal
"It takes someone ridiculously smart to write something as deceptively simple as SUM." —Denver Daily News
"With both a childlike sense of wonder and a trenchant flair for irony, the Baylor College of Medicine neuroscientist generously offers forty variations on the theme of God and the afterlife, imagining what each of us might find when we shuffle off this mortal coil." —Texas Monthly
"A small gem of a book.... Who'd have thought that a young neuroscientist would have so much story in him?" —The Globe and Mail, Toronto
"Imaginative riffs that are simultaneously improvisational and well-considered. . . . Challenges you to leave well-traveled paths of belief and think in bold, new ways." —Arizona Republic
"These images of the Great Beyond are more complex, sometimes whimsical, always veering off in an unexpected direction. In total they present a realm where you are certain to learn something about the life you just left behind."—Deseret News
“With both a childlike sense of wonder and a trenchant flair for irony, the Baylor College of Medicine neuroscientist generously offers forty variations on the theme of God and the afterlife, imagining what each of us might find when we shuffle off this mortal coil.... Sum is great fun—sort of a brainy parlor game in print--and a modest satire aimed at zealots who define heaven and God to serve their own ends. It is also a reminder that when it comes to our knowledge of the hereafter, we have loads of faith but not a scintilla of proof.”—Texas Monthly
“Wow.”—New York Observer
“Stunningly original…. Sum has the unaccountable, jaw-dropping quality of genius."—Geoff Dyer, The Observer
"Unsettling and reassuring, godly and godless....Excitement pervades the whole volume."—The National Post
"As rigorous and imaginative as the writings of Italo Calvino and Alan Lightman." –Nature
“SUM is terrific. It’s such a good idea that I was grinding my teeth all the way through wishing I’d thought of it first. The inventiveness, the clarity and wit of the prose, the calm air of moral understanding that pervades the whole thing, add up to something completely original. I hope SUM will be the great big hit it deserves to be.” —Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass
“Witty, bright, sharp and unexpected . . . as surprising a book as I’ve read for years.”
“David Eagleman’s SUM is a captivating collection of vignettes that portray possible afterlives–creatively conceived and deftly described. Each tale imagines an unexpected reality that might await us, possible worlds that illuminate life with colors rarely encountered.”—Brian Greene, author of The Elegant Universe
“SUM is an imaginative and provocative book that gives new perspectives on how to view ourselves and our place in the world.”—Alan Lightman, author of Einstein’s Dreams
About the Author
DAVID EAGLEMAN is a neuroscientist, a Guggenheim Fellow, a TED speaker, and a New York Times bestselling author. His books have been translated into 33 languages. Eagleman runs a neuroscience technology company in Palo Alto, CA, where he teaches at Stanford University and also directs the Center for Science and Law. He is the author and presenter of the Emmy-nominated PBS series The Brain. At night he writes.
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It's difficult to write about this without giving too much away; if you want take the stories at their freshest, stop reading my review and read the book now. Come back when you've finished (in an hour or two) to compare your thoughts with mine.
In many of the chapters we can't communicate with God, or the creator(s), because there are such differences of scale or understanding. "Do you think it would have any meaning at all if you displayed one of your Shakespearean plays to a bacterium? Of course not. Meaning varies with spatial scale. So we have concluded that communicating with her is not impossible, but it is pointless." (P 16). Also: "She is the elephant described by the blind men; all partial descriptions with no understanding of the whole." (P 99)
This theme resonates with me; I first saw a form of this idea on the original Cosmos with Carl Sagan. Because God is beyond us we can't perfectly conceive of him (Sagan was talking about aliens not God). Consider a two dimensional universe; one with length and width but no height - thinner than a flattest, thinnest paper. Beings in this universe would develop math and philosophy based on their experiences. Then suppose a cube appears over the universe casting a varying shaped shadow as it revolves above this two dimensional universe. The two dimensional beings could see the shadow shape change but could not conceive of a three dimensional cube. We can only conceive of those things which meet our scale.
Other stories show the creator(s) were imperfect and even heaven is imperfect. "He is in the position of an amateur magician who performs for small children and suddenly has to play to skeptical adults." (P 93). Even then all is not lost: "He has recently faced his limitations, and this has brought Him closer to us." (P 94)
Still another recurring theme considers our physical, atomic structure of bacterium, molecules, atoms and quarks. "But it turns out your thousand trillion trillion atoms were not an accidental collection; each was labeled as composing you and continues to be so wherever it goes. So you're not gone, your'e simply taking on different forms." (P106).
My favorite story was the last: Reversal where we live our lives backward "The pleasures of a lifetime of intercourse are relived, culminating in kissed instead of sleep." (P109)
The most disturbing story was chapter four: Descent of Species. When given a chance to go back to earth as anything you want, pick wisely.
David Eagleman is a neuroscientist, not a theologian or a philosopher. This book is not for conservative religious, regardless of faith. But if you would like a small diversion to consider what might be ahead of us.