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Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlife
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Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlife

4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  6,611 ratings  ·  1,124 reviews
Sum is a stunning exploration of funny and unexpected afterlives that have never been considered—each presented as a vignette that offers a lens through which to see ourselves here and now. In one afterlife, you find that God is the size of a microbe and is unaware of your existence. In another, you work as a background character in other people's dreams. Or you may find t ...more
Paperback, 128 pages
Published February 9th 2010 by Penguin Canada (first published January 1st 2009)
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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
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
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 movements ...more
Alyssa Banguilan
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....?
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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!
Sep 01, 2010 Alan rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Alan by: short review
probably 3.5 actually. A fascinating book of short tales about possible afterlives, including one where all possible versions of you exist (quantum physics I think), another where God is so small he works on a microbal (?) level, and is simply unaware of us, a bi-product of bacteria. Or where the afterlife conforms to capitalist principles and for a reasoable price you can download your version of heaven. Or When you arrive in the afterlife, you find that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley sits on a th ...more
May 26, 2010 Joel rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Joel 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

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
Dave Cullen
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
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
Natalie Tyler
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
Cindy Knoke
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.
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
Clever, amusing little read. 40 different versions of what the afterlife could be, none of which seem altogether satisfying, which adds to the humor. Some examples:

1. In the afterlife you relive all your life experiences again, but this time organized into different categories - 6 hours brushing your teeth, 3 hours pulling up outside your house, 10 days taking a shower, 10 hours of excruciating pain... hmmm.... not sure that sounds so great.

2. In the afterlife, when you die, you realize everyone
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
Will Byrnes
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
This little book is brilliant! Forty tales from the afterlife, each one is more unexpected, funny, sad and clever than the next one - they make you laugh, talk to yourself and look for anyone to share your delight.
Could you imagine the afterlife that is exactly like your past life but everything happened in a different sequence. First, you eat for 30 years, than you sleep for the next 40, after that you chat on a phone for the 25 and sit at the front of TV in a zombie state for the whole 10 year
Lara Messersmith-Glavin
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,
Good thing Alan Lightman reviewed Sum positively (amidst dozens of other deservedly positive reviews in the first few pages), because if not, I would've wondered if he was gritting his teeth about Eagleman snagging his concept.

Lightman's Einstein's Dreams follows a structure similar to Sum's: multiple short, sharp, thought-provoking parables, all of which reinterpret a well-known, well-studied concept. In Einstein's Dreams, it's Time. In Sum, it's the Afterlife -- and all the possible ways we'll
Bel Murphy
This collection is to be savoured, considered, debated in small and delicious bites. I first heard about it on BBC Radio 4's open book programme and was intrigued as it is very different from anything I have read before.

As a cradle Catholic, may of the vignettes turned my indoctrination on its head and I suspect that some would deem Eagleman's musings to fly in the face of conventional religion. Far from the church's teaching of life being but a barren waiting room for our heavenly reward, perh
Adi Alsaid
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
david eagleman, neuroscientist and author of the recently published nonfiction book incognito: the secret lives of the brain, has given quite a bit of thought to the inner workings of the mind. known primarily for his writings on cognitive science, synaesthesia, and the perception of time, sum: forty tales from the afterlives is, to date, eagleman's only work of fiction. an intriguing thought experiment (in the vein of alan lightman's tremendous einstein's dreams) composed of brief vignettes, su ...more
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
If there were an award for most stimulating ideas per paragraph, this tidy book would be near the top of the list.

Aside from the fact that this is written by a highly regarded neuroscientist, this is just plain well-written, highly imaginative fiction. The premise: Eagleman devises 40 different afterlives that we might live, and each one is more intriguing than the last.

There is the title afterlife, Sum, where all our experiences are categorized and we relive them in discrete chunks -- 15 hours
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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...
Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain Why the Net Matters: How the Internet Will Save Civilization Livewired: How the Brain Rewrites its Own Circuitry Wednesday Is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia 40

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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.” 213 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.” 41 likes
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