Thursday, July 28, 2011

Book #36: Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives

I got David Eagleman's Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives after reading a profile on the author in the New Yorker a few weeks back. Eagleman is a neuroscientist, see, and so he regularly looks into how the brain perceives different things. I was particularly drawn to his look at how time and the brain are related, but I was rather intrigued by his book of forty short pieces that explore possibilities for the afterlife, too. So I got the book from the library.

Each of the forty tales about what the afterlife could be like is no more than a few pages. The result is a slim volume of a book, but don't be deceived by that size--there is so, so much to think about in this lovely bit of fiction! On the most surface level, it is quite impressive that Eagleman could come up with forty distinct possibilities for what the afterlife might be; even more so that he can give each scenario weight and viability and rules that work. Just a bit deeper is the beautiful prose that Eagleman uses to paint these various pictures of our lives after death. The language really is marvelous. Perhaps most impressive, however, is the fact that is book is so simple and as a result so philosophical. I could easily have read just one tale per day and pondered it all day long. In fact, I'm thinking I'll actually purchase a copy so that I can do just that--really focus on what these stories can bring to light about human nature, the type of world we live in, and what we believe as subscribers to a variety of belief systems. A really beautiful, thought-provoking book.

I'd suggest Sum to the scientifically-minded with a bit of a philosophical side, to the religious and/or spiritual looking for a secular vehicle for thought and discussion, and to anyone who is a fan on really simple, beautiful stories. I was so impressed.

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