Sum

  • by David Eagleman
  • Narrated by Gillian Anderson, Emily Blunt, Nick Cave, David Eagleman, Noel Fielding, Stephen Fry
  • 2 hrs and 45 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

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.

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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)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

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 :)
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- Chris

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

Book Details

  • Release Date: 06-08-2010
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio