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Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives (Hardcover)


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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Review
"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 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

"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."
—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

"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

A delightful book full of paradoxes and unexpected insights, February 13, 2009
By Leo McMarley (Edinburgh)


Occasionally a book comes along of such originality that it stops you in your tracks, of such sharpness that it makes you think again about so many things and of such warmth that it makes you want to share it with everyone you meet. David Eagleman's Sum is just such a book.

Ostensibly a book about what happens after we die, ironically Sum is really an examination of what it means to live. After all the divide is perhaps not as great as we think and as John Keats once wrote, "Life is but a Waking Dream."

In the course of these 40 imaginings of the afterlife, Eagleman takes you on a long and varied emotional journey. Some of the Sums are absurd and surreal, others are poigant and poetic, others are funny and wild, some are neurologically cutting edge while others are dreamily abstract. It's an astonishing feat of the mind and to top it all, they are all written is this clear and limpid prose that is a joy and completely effortless to read.

I have a feeling that this book is going to become one of these word of mouth sleeper hits. There are at least 20 people I plan to give it to straight away and everyone I have read snippets of it to has immediately responded to its humanity and humour.

I'm sure that at least one or two of reviewers of this book will be tempted to write, "Greater than the Sum of its parts", because that is exactly what it is. Enjoy and dream and smile and weep.

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