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Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives

4.15  ·  Rating Details ·  9,339 Ratings  ·  1,424 Reviews
At once funny, wistful and unsettling, Sum is a dazzling exploration of unexpected afterlives—each presented as a vignette that offers a stunning lens through which to see ourselves in the here and now. In one afterlife, you may find that God is the size of a microbe and unaware of your existence. In another version, you work as a background character in other people’s dre ...more
Hardcover, 110 pages
Published February 10th 2009 by Pantheon
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Jun 06, 2010 RandomAnthony rated it liked it
In the afterlife you discover that all the goodreaders are in the same walled-off section of heaven. God greets you in the form of your ideal librarian. In the goodreads heaven library you witness the librarian gamut: examples include a fatherly professor, a stern but gentle middle-aged woman, and a supermodel in a plaid skirt with legs that won’t quit. If you are a seventeen year old girl God is a combination of Ben Harrison and that guy from 500 Days of Summer.

The more time you spent on goodre
Will Byrnes
Jul 13, 2016 Will Byrnes rated it liked it
Shelves: short-stories
You do not have to be a subscriber to any of the more common religions in this world to harbor some notion, some hope, that there might be a form of personal existence beyond death. Eagelman has come up with forty possible post-mortem futures and offers them up in bite-size stories in this slim volume. The tales range from tedious to inspired. There is an O-Henry-esque tale in which a man’s greatest desire is to become a horse. A vision of God as being fascinated with Mary Shelley’s masterpiece ...more
Nov 10, 2008 Sam rated it it was amazing
This book blew me away; I underlined and starred dozens of sentences and typed them in to my friends on email. Sum tells 40 vignettes from the afterlife, but you quickly figure out that (a) the stories are mutually exclusive (if one is true then the others cannot be), and (b) the stories are not about the afterlife at all, but instead unusual portraits about the here-and-now. After I read it I found out that the author David Eagleman is a brain scientist during the day, and that explains a bit a ...more
MJ Nicholls
Mar 29, 2012 MJ Nicholls rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My favourite video game of all time is a homemade 2D platformer on the little-known Yaroze—a black, programmable Playstation—called Time Slip . In this game you are a snail with a one-minute lifespan who has to use his time on screen to stand on buttons that open doors to other parts of the level. Once the minute is up, the snail is reincarnated as another snail at the beginning of the level, or at the latest checkpoint. The ghost of your previous snail remains on the map, reliving its movement ...more
Apr 15, 2009 R. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2009
Work. Of. Genius.

This is a suite of variations on the possibilities of different kinds of afterlives. Each of the forty tales is usually only about a couple of pages long, but each one is densely packed with mind-bending what-ifs. He imagines wildly different ways that an afterlife, if it existed, could be structured. Some are exquisitely sad, such as this first paragraph from 'Metamorphosis': "There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the ...more
Nov 21, 2016 Caroline rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Caroline by: Dave Cullen

An enjoyable set of inventive "what if?" vignettes, Sum is Eagleman's envisionings of various versions of the afterlife. All are impressively unique, and some really stretch the mind. Be sure to open this book while fully alert. Eagleman's background as a neuroscientist is, at times, on full display in these pages as some of his ideas veer into the complex and obscure with talk of quarks and atoms. Readers not inclined toward the scientific may find these boring. Fortunately, th
Amy (shoutame)
Mar 21, 2016 Amy (shoutame) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult
Such a quaint little read!

I didn't know what to expect when going into this book but I was pleasantly surprised. Eagleman takes the reader to mystical and dark places as he contemplates what the afterlife may hold. From a heaven where Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) is Queen to an afterlife where you act as the extras in living peoples dreams - this book is a real look into an incredible imagination. Although each tale is only a couple of pages long I was fully transported to each ghostly
Jul 19, 2009 ann rated it did not like it
Some of these stories were indeed imaginative scenarios of what the afterlife is like or what God might be like. But because his Heaven or God is always imagined as some inversion of a human hierarchy or gets repetitive very fast. God always lacks some human quality that intrinsically keeps him as God and us as humans, or...he's just like us, but just a smaller or larger scale. Because his Heaven is always some rearranged variation of the human life, all the stories start to sound the ...more
Mar 21, 2009 Julie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. Normally I find it difficult to read an entire volume of short fiction (the stories in this book are so short they could almost be called sudden fiction), but this collection of hypothetical versions of the afterlife was so cleverly done that I couldn't stop reading it. Brilliant! Even though I've already read it I want to buy a copy to add to my personal library.
Mar 27, 2009 Kent rated it it was amazing
A beautiful elegy for the lives we have chosen to lead or not to lead. Sum is a wonderous piece of writing. While the book is comprised of 40 imaginings of the afterlife, it is much more a celebration of everything which has come before it. After reading Sum, I was left awestruck again by the world around us.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Alyssa Banguilan
Mar 22, 2009 Alyssa Banguilan rated it it was amazing
Want to stretch your mind for a bit? Check out this little book packed with imaginative possibilities of what happens after you die. Written by a neuroscientist, Sum captures many facets of the Afterlife that are told succinctly in a series of vignettes that pull from science, fantasy, sci-fi, mythology, pop culture, religion, and probably a few nightmares and daydreams. But what if....?
Mar 26, 2009 Natali rated it it was amazing
If I could give this book 6 stars I would! I thought it was brilliant and I plan to read it again and often.

Sum is a collection of short stories that are visions of the way we could conceive of life after we die. It is a clever way to think about your life from afar. It alternates between esoteric, profound, and hilarious.
May 26, 2010 j rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to j by: Donna, in that she read it first
Fitfully imaginative, often repetitive meditations on what might happen after we die that frequently get sidetracked into cute commentaries on how we live now. Which isn't unexpected, I suppose. But the most entertaining and thoughtful of these stories truly fulfill the promise of the premise; the others just didn't do much for me. Also, way too many of them involve variations on the idea that we are unknowingly cogs in some vast system, but this might not bug if I hadn't read the book in two si ...more
Öldükten sonra nereye gideriz ya da bir yere gider miyiz? Tanrı dediğimiz şey aslında bir devanası mı? Ya birileri bizi hep anarsa ve o zaman biz de sonsuza dek var olursak ne olur, sıkılmaz mıyız? Ya Tanrı bizden çok bunalmış ve çoktan başka evrenlere taşınmışsa?

Bu hikayeler bir harika dostum!
Aug 16, 2015 Phakin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read Thai version last night. A good translation and very thought-provoking. Recommended!
เอกภพ สิทธิวรรณธนะ
SUM ผลรวมหลังวางวาย

ผมอาน 'SUM : สีสิบเรืองเลาหลังความตาย' จบไปนานแลว แตพอไดจัดหองใหม ผมจึงคอยกลับมาเหนหนังสือปกแปลกๆ วางอยูบนโตะอีกครัง ไดกลับมาพลิกอานบทสองบท อารามจึงปรากฏอารมณอยากเขียนถึงขึนมา

ใครตอใครวากันวา คนตายไปแลวยอมไมกลับมาบอกวาชีวิตหลังความตายเปนอยางไร บางกวามันเปนสถานทีทีดีจนไมมีใครอยากกลับ บางกวากลไกลึกลับทางวิญญาณไมอนุญาตใหเปนเชนนัน บางกวาอันทีจริงคนตายกกลับมารายงานสภาพนรกสวรรคอยูเนืองๆ แตคนหัววิทยไมยอมเชือตางหาก

ไมวาใครจะวาอยางไร คุณเดวิด อีเกิลแมน กไมสนใจ แกยังคงขะมักขะเมนฟุงฝันถึงช
Natalie Tyler
Feb 20, 2014 Natalie Tyler rated it really liked it
Shelves: excellent-books
David Eagleman is a neuroscientist and an excellent writer. SUM consist of 40 rather brief vignettes---or imaginings---of what the afterlife might consist of. Some are hilarious, some are rather sci-fi, some of mysteriously brilliant and compelling. Most are memorable. I would suggest reading this book slowly--just one or two chapters a day. Otherwise it can become overwhelmingly like an educated psychedelic light show. Eagleman is not all tricks and mirrors: informed by science and his study of ...more
Dave Cullen
Jan 06, 2010 Dave Cullen rated it it was amazing
This was my favorite book I read in 2009.

Here's what I wrote in a piece for Salon:

I loved the idea of "Sum: 40 Tales From the Afterlives," but did I actually want to slog through 40 of them? How many novel conceptions of the afterlife are there -- wouldn’t this be about 35 too many? No, actually. David Eagleman has got a million of them.

Eagleman did his undergrad in literature and his Ph.D. in neuroscience. He runs a brain lab by day and writes fiction at
Ben Babcock
This is totally unrelated to the content of the book, but I keep wanting to call this Sum: Forty-One Tales from the Afterlives, after the band Sum 41. And I kind of feel like David Eagleman missed out on some tie-in gold there. Call me, Eagleman.

Let’s start with one huge positive of this book: it’s short. I’m saying that’s a positive not because I disliked the book—quite the opposite, in fact. And yeah, maybe I am reading a whole bunch of short books in the last few days of 2014 to bump up my re
Lara Messersmith-Glavin
Aug 14, 2009 Lara Messersmith-Glavin rated it it was ok
Shelves: spirit
A charming little thought-experiment conducted by a writer of rich yet limited imagination. This book has received rave reviews in a number of journals over the past few months, and I was on a waiting list at the library for weeks before I had a chance to check it out myself.


Clearly influenced by the structured, dreamlike musings of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, Sum: Fory Tales from the Afterlives dances neatly through a series of post-life possibilities. Some are clever, some are odd
Jun 03, 2009 Matt rated it liked it
I liked this well enough-- forty short alternate versions of what happens to us when we die. It's sort of like _You're an Animal, Viskovitz_ in the sense that is works through ringing all these different possible bells. But I think there's something of a lack of variety in terms of technique-- Eagleman's writing is clear, but never really luminous or literary. The result is that he has only a couple ways to go, and most of the short pieces end in a kind of recognition that we'd call situation ir ...more
Sep 10, 2011 Paul rated it it was amazing

A sort of theological speculative fiction, examining forty possible futures for after you die. Written by a neuroscientist, dualistic ideas are explored on occasion, but most of the futures draw widely from religion, science fiction, dreams, and or nightmares.

Not for dogmatists, as ideas of God are wildly varied, but the best part for me was the way that values are explored. In many of the afterlives, some characteristics of contemporary reality are projected into the future. If you re
Nov 28, 2009 Meg rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lit, 2009, borrowed
What a clever little book. Not surprised to learn it was written by a neuroscientist. My favorite chapters were "Mirrors" and "Prism," both which deal with knowing yourself rather than knowing the universe- would quote from this book profusely, but out of context nothing would make any sense. Oh, whatever:"Why do we play our parts so earnestly? Why don't we go on strike and blow the cover of the truth? One factor is the sincerity in the face of your lover: her life of unexpected reactive emotion ...more
Jul 27, 2015 Holly rated it it was amazing
This is a book that I really loved. It was glittering and glorious. It’s a short story collection all about the afterlife, or afterlives, as it explores the many many things that could happen to us after death. Some are quiet and simple, some are completely nuts, some are kind of terrifying to consider. It’s a fascinating way of looking at the possibility of God and religion, is really whimsical in places and just brilliant!
Chance Maree
Jul 27, 2011 Chance Maree rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chance by: Joseph from my writer's group
Shelves: kindle, fantasy
I absolutely loved reading this book. Ran through it like a glutton gobbling every story, giggling with delight. This is one book I'll buy hard copy and keep it lying around for occasional browsing. I'd like to dwell and investigate a few of the vignettes. I'm sure they've permeated my sub-conscious and will pop up in my own imaginings. Oh -- and yes, I highly recommend it to anyone willing to explore the possible options in the afterlife.
May 10, 2015 Kalin added it  ·  (Review from the author)  ·  review of another edition
„Сума“ няма да ви донесе озарение за отвъдното... нито успокоение. ;) По-скоро може да ви накара да преосмислите тукашното – вашето лично. Навярно да избегнете някои глупости. Със сигурност да се посмеете. В повечето случаи – сами на себе си.

Може да прочетете две от моите любими истории – тези, в които аз съм се смял и преосмислял най-много – в личния ми блог.
Cindy Knoke
Aug 13, 2012 Cindy Knoke rated it it was amazing
I don’t know how this man has accomplished all he has in his life and how he managed to write such a hilarious, thought provoking and profound book.
He’s a comedically gifted neurologist.
I know, I know, we’re all like this.
Read this wonderful book.
It will make you laugh.
And think.
Plus this guy would the best graduate advisor in the world.
Adi Alsaid
Feb 12, 2014 Adi Alsaid rated it it was amazing
Re-read update: Still incredible and imaginative and about forty other adjectives.


I read this book in a sitting. Granted, I was exclusively writing at the time, so my day wasn’t full of things to do. But it’s a short book, one which is extremely easy to read. It’s imaginative and funny and heartbreaking, and at its end I found myself wishing there were more stories. I already talked about this boo
Jan 20, 2015 Kalin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Now putting the finishing touches to the Bulgarian translation.

Caveat: Sum will bring no insight to those who seek visions of the afterworld--and no consolation either. ;) Instead, it may make us re-examine our very own lives, here and now. Perhaps avoid some of the blunders. Definitely laugh. At ourselves, most of the time.

I laughed in "Quantum":

In the afterlife you can enjoy all possibilities at once, living multiple lives in parallel. You find yourself simultaneously eating and not eating. Yo
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David Eagleman is a neuroscientist, a New York Times bestselling author, and a Guggenheim Fellow. During the day he runs a neuroscience research laboratory at Baylor College of Medicine in the Texas Medical Center in Houston. At night he writes. His books have been translated into 23 languages.
More about David Eagleman...

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“There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.” 351 likes
“Since we live in the heads of those who remember us, we lose control of our lives and become who they want us to be.” 61 likes
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