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The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature Hardcover – August 19, 2008
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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
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Top Customer Reviews
More of a criticism -- though this may be a criticism of me, not Levitin -- is that he extensively makes references to contemporary popular music and musicians to give examples of what he is writing. Being raised on classical music, I found most of these examples useless.
I haven't read it, but, from what I have heard, another of Levitin's books, "This Is Your Brain on Music," sounds like a better and more scientifically based book. I intend to read it next.
Each chapter includes uninspiring song examples that seem to undermine his claim of significance. Mr Levitin apologies for this in the final chapter claiming the examples are provided for a common frame of reference and are not meant to represent the best of the genre. If great examples are so hard to come by, what makes these categories more than arbitrary?
This seems most evident in the chapter on religious songs. When composers like Bach have spent their entire career writing religious music, is Leon Russell's Superstar performed by Carpenter's the most worthy mention? How is a study of Arcade Fire lyrics pertinent while Handel's Messiah mearly gets mentioned by name?
Levitin stresses how little difference there is between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom. He fails to show that the musical brain he attributes to humans is an important distinction.
However, this book is thin on content and full of annoyances that most readers will catch. For example, he waxes nostalgically about the anti-Viet Nam War music and how it influenced political life in the Sixties and later. However, Levitin was still playing with toys in the Sixties! His views of the impact of music on the Viet Nam War are second-hand sentimentality.
He also tries to comment on religion without being offensive. He suggests religion was displaced by technology and then quickly changes topic. I am sure most of his colleagues believe that, but they need to get out more.
Most of all, you realize quickly that very few people had much input when he researched this book. He quotes Sting constantly, probably because Sting was one of the few people that agreed to be interviewed.
I do not want to trash the book completely. His idea that music influenced brain development in Homo sapiens is original and clever. There will probably prove to be some truth to it, but clearly the cart is (at least partially) in front of the horse.
It is still a thoughtful and entertaining book, but it pales in comparison to Levitin's first book.