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Sum: Tales from the Afterlives | [David Eagleman]

Sum: Tales from the Afterlives

In one afterlife you may find that God is the size of a microbe and is unaware of your existence. In another, your creators are a species of dim-witted creatures who built us to figure out what they could not. In a different version of the afterlife you work as a background character in other people’s dreams. Or you may find that the afterlife contains only people whom you remember, or that the hereafter includes the thousands of previous gods who no longer attract followers.
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Publisher's Summary

Sum shows us 40 wonderfully imagined possibilities of life beyond death.

In one afterlife you may find that God is the size of a microbe and is unaware of your existence. In another, your creators are a species of dim-witted creatures who built us to figure out what they could not. In a different version of the afterlife, you work as a background character in other people’s dreams. Or you may find that the afterlife contains only people you remember, or that the hereafter includes the thousands of previous gods who no longer attract followers.

In some afterlives you are split into your different ages; in some you are forced to live with annoying versions of yourself that represent what you could have been; in others you are re-created from your credit-card records and Internet history.

Many versions of our purpose here are proposed; we are mobile robots for cosmic mapmakers, we are reunions for a scattered confederacy of atoms, we are experimental subjects for gods trying to understand what makes couples stick together.

These tales—at once witty, wistful and unsettling—are rooted in science and romance and awe at our mysterious existence while asking the key questions about death, hope, technology, immortality, love, biology, and desire that expose radiant new facets of our humanity.

©2010 David Eagleman (P)2010 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"Sum has the unaccountable, jaw-dropping quality of genius. It seems exquisitely adapted to fill the contemporary longing for a kind of secular holy book." (Observer)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.1 (168 )
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4.2 (106 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 10-16-11
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 10-16-11 Member Since 2005

    Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Surprisingly profound, if you get past whimsy"

    This short but charming book by a neuroscientist offers forty brief, fanciful scenarios about what afterlife might be like. Most of them describe a setup in which some human wish is fulfilled in the next world, but there's a catch. What would heaven be like if God let EVERYONE in? What if we became horses in the next life, but lost our human ability to understand what we were? What if humanity's religious disagreements were to continue in the afterlife? What if our stay in heaven's "waiting room" correlated with how famous or infamous we were back on Earth? What if death by natural causes was removed as a feature of human life? What if we got to spend eternity with versions of ourselves that had made different decisions in life?

    I find it rather unfortunate that Eagleman's storytelling style is so cheesy and often includes a cartoonish depiction of God, because, if you can get past that, he's asking some deep philosophical questions. For example, a piece comparing God to the wizard of Oz asks which would be more scary: to find a mighty being in the universe's throne room -- or to learn that all of our religious awe has been created by a man behind a curtain (i.e. us)? Another chapter ponders what age we will be in the afterlife, which is, of course, another way of asking: how do you define a human being, who is constantly changing over the course of his or her life? Another piece imagines a universe ruled by a multitude of small gods, each responsible for a very limited domain, could be a metaphor for human society, or for how the human brain works. And yet another chapter envisions abstract organizations like companies and governments having afterlives, since what is a human being but a collection of parts?

    Many of the vignettes aren't really even *about* life after death, per se, but use the question as a way of examining our assumptions about how the world works or what makes us who we are. I wish the author had included a brief "hint" with each piece -- some of the people writing negative reviews might have been more favorable had they realized what he was asking them to think about.

    All in all, a clever, creative, whimsical, thought-provoking work, if you can look deeper than the packaging. The audiobook version is well-produced, with readings by different voice talents.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chris APO, AE, United States 03-08-11
    Chris APO, AE, United States 03-08-11
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    "Caution: Can blow your mind! Great!"

    Wow, I thought I had a diverse understanding of the possibilities beyond but this book over takes my imagination at 100 MPH as if I were standing still. Loved it! Get ready to see the possibilities at angles never considered before :)

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kate United States 04-06-13
    Kate United States 04-06-13 Member Since 2012

    I love audiobooks. Reading has always been a struggle for me because of my poor eyesight. Audible changed my world and made my commutes a joy.

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    "Brilliant book!"

    If you want an unconventional book that will make you think about life and death in a lighthearted way - Sum is one of the best books out there. Brilliantly narrated by an all star cast, this book is an excellent exercise in imagination and creativity.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jacqueline San Francisco, CA, United States 07-29-12
    Jacqueline San Francisco, CA, United States 07-29-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Bridging the gap between possible and real"

    It may change how you view your world. I don't find it whimsical at all. The creative process is exceedingly endemic to science and progress. It is indulgently fun, however and I have listened to many stories repeatedly over the course of at least a year.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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    RM Simon 05-28-11
    RM Simon 05-28-11
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    "A modest pleasure at best"

    The first few are amusing and provocative. The book quickly becomes tedious. I would have abandoned it but for its being relatively short, only an hour longer than my daily walk.

    5 of 7 people found this review helpful
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    Diane Louisville, KY, United States 03-21-11
    Diane Louisville, KY, United States 03-21-11 Member Since 2010
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    "Silly"

    I know that this book is very popular in some quarters and I have heard excerpts on a number of radio programs. However, I found the various fantasies both pretentious and artful. While fanciful and playful on the surface, it is clear that the author intends them to be cleverly profound insights into the meaning of life. In fairness, I only made it through about a third of the book, after which I could not take it any more.

    4 of 11 people found this review helpful
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