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The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature

3.67  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,913 Ratings  ·  153 Reviews
The author of the "New York Times" bestseller "This Is Your Brain on Music" reveals music's role in the evolution of human culture-and "will leave you awestruck" ("The New York Times")
Daniel J. Levitin's astounding debut bestseller, "This Is Your Brain on Music," enthralled and delighted readers as it transformed our understanding of how music gets in our heads and stays
ebook, 368 pages
Published August 1st 2008 by Plume Books (first published 2008)
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Jul 11, 2011 Charles rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
confession: I have had a profound interest in neurobiology, syntax, anthropology and languages; additionally, I am a passionate and knowledgeable musician and student of music.

So, I should have loved this book. Sorry to relate, I didn't even like it.

The premise is that music, or, in particular, songs, can be divided into six broad categories. The author then attempts, through anecdote, personal reflection, a (very) little data, and public rumination to show that it is true because it is true. At
Feb 14, 2009 Kathy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book I half liked. The part about the songs we love as human beings, the types that run through all sorts of cultures and times. That was great as the author has a wonderfully diverse sense of music and really went to great lengths to insure he was well rounded in talking about songs the world over. There were some great comparisons and some new thoughts. You have to love a book that references the Bible and Lord of the Rings in the same paragraph.
But then the section the subtitle refers to
Mar 09, 2009 Adam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those with interests in some combination of psychology, evolution and music
I have to say I'm a bit disappointed at my second encounter with Daniel Levitin's musical exploration.

While from a psychological standpoint I wholly agree that music has played an undeniable role in human evolution, I for some reason find the overall concept of this book to be, almost, silly. Sure, there are obviously some discernible categories of songs but to narrow it down to just six is, well, quite a feat.

Levitin does do a good job of supporting why he chose these categories but I find that
Jun 06, 2010 Sieran rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: popular-science

Favorite Chapter: "Comfort" songs! Turns out my permanent 3 favorite songs: "Somewhere", "Memories", and "Forgiven" by Within Temptation are ALL comfort songs somewhat. Ooh, I'm attracted to comfort songs!

Favorite parts:

Loved how Oxytocin is triggered when you sing in a group, the trust inducing chemical.

"Comfort" songs. Found this most touching.
Interesting how feeling sad (or listening to sad songs) releases Prolactin, which tranquilizes you.


Didn't like how he goes off topic i
This book fed my love of music, science, human nature - quite a feat for just one text! As I'm not a huge scientifico (yes I made that one up), I was a little concerned that I would be needing to look a lot of terms / theories up while reading this book. However, the terms were very easy to understand and the theories were well explained...a little too well explained. Levitin rehashes (on seemingly EVERY PAGE) the theory of spontaneous mutation. I'm sure the author was trying to ensure that we a ...more
Feb 22, 2009 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Readable analysis by a neuroscientist/musician/music-cognition-researcher classifying the world's music by song type (friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, love) and speculating on how our enjoyment of each could reflect evolutionary processes.

Read skeptically, there is a lot of "just-so" story-telling without much evidence base (...and perhaps songs with this type of rhythmn facilitated social bonding, which would make those who could sing them rise in the status hierarchy and be bette
Jul 14, 2009 Stven rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
Recommended to Stven by: library
The alleged thesis of the book is undertaken in anecdote, speculation, and a kind of general knowledge about science, psychology, and the lyrics of popular songs. The most interesting aspect seems to be the author's reminiscences about his childhood in the 1960s and his reminiscences about his reminiscences, as for example when he finds himself at the hotel room where John and Yoko had their "bed-in" for peace and goes into raptures imagining all about how this is the very place where "Give Peac ...more
Tara Brabazon
Mar 21, 2016 Tara Brabazon rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Neuroscience has a lot to answer for. Who the hell let this research infiltrate popular cultural studies?

I cannot believe how bad this book is. The sonic media literature, the popular cultural literature and the popular music literature is outside of this book. Instead - wow - some absolutely bonkers 'research' and commentary are offered.

To provide one example - and only one because I can feel my intelligence draining through my nostrils as I write this review: “Creative brains became more attra
Jerry Oliver
Apr 19, 2013 Jerry Oliver rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

This was a fascinating book on the nature of music and the development of the human brain. In this book Levitin shows how music and dance enabled the bonding and friendship necessary for society, science and art to evolve. Levitin combines his scientific findings with his own experiences as a professional musician and interviews with musical icons for a unique study of the six song theory. Songs of Friendship, Joy, Comfort, Knowledge, Religion, and Love.
Sep 28, 2015 Nicole rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
First off, this book should to be retitled. Instead of "The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature" it ought to be called "Evolution and Music: How the Great and Powerful Evolution Gifted Us with Music." The six songs aspect of the book, in spite of the title and layout of the chapters, was more of an afterthought than the main point of this book, and the way that Levitin speaks of evolution is like he's speaking about a being, rather than a force of nature. Which brings ...more
Jan 21, 2016 Steve rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title is misleading - he's talking about six kinds of songs which reflect developments in the evolution of human nature. Specifically, he covers friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, and love songs. Levitin is a musician himself, one with connections enough to chat with Sting, David Byrne, Rodney Crowell, and others about their opinions of these kinds of songs. His writing is good enough to keep me reading until real insights emerge, and they do fairly often as we go along, albeit w ...more
Nick Davies
This is an entertaining read, very easy to get through, and plenty about it was endearing and appealing on a very approachable level - Levitin writes pretty readable stuff in trying to make the case for why humans have music, and what it means to us as thinking beings.

I was left slightly disappointed, however, because it just wasn't convincing. The author aims to classify all music into one of six different types (for friendship, for information, for joy etc.) but the whole thing left me with so
May 24, 2016 Bill rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: annual-challenge
The interesting facts and theories feel bogged down in a dense forest of other interesting tidbits and tangents. I read the whole book but it felt like a first draft in need of a focus driven editor to help shape the narrative of each chapter. All the info contained is good but the order and flow made this a tough read.
Lots of interesting information in this book, but it's not quite as engaging as it really should be. I love music, but the way the book was written...wasn't great. I read Robert Klara's book on the White House renovation awhile back and it was written so much better than this one. I'm not nearly as interested in architecture either. The other thing that bugged me was the author choosing different song titles for each chapter and only addressing the song he chose for the last chapter. What's the ...more
Jo-Ann Murphy
I was thrilled to win this book through the Good reads giveaways because I thought it could be useful in my work.

This was a difficult book to get through. The author's name dropping is annoying and he seems to go off on stories that while interesting don't seem to add to the topic being discussed.

The other problem I had was that I am not an expert in music so when he begins throwing musical terms around without definition, I really have no idea what he is talking about. I am sure if I had a musi
Danni Green
Oct 02, 2014 Danni Green rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book a lot. I learned a lot, and I appreciated the author's passion for the subject matter. I did feel like it was a stretch, at times, for the content to fit the structure, and found this to be distracting at times. It seemed like the author tried to squeeze more information into his categories than really fit there, and I think the book could have really just been a book about "how the musical brain created human nature" without the whole "six songs" constriction. But overall, i ...more
This is one of those books that turned out not to be about what I thought it would be about. I thought it would be about music. Which it was, in a way, but it was more about human evolution and where our sense of musicality came from. I think. I say I think, because it wasn't always entirely clear what Levitin's point was.

Levitin starts off by telling the reader that songs can be divided into six categories, and the rest of the book is spent explaining what these categories are. In the course of
Nate Trier
Jul 01, 2016 Nate Trier rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The sweeping statement that every song in the world fits into one of six categories is bold and intriguing. But Levitin seems uninterested in developing this further, and instead uses this thesis as a way to distribute blends of speculation about primitive man, biology research, and personal anecdotes. There is very little way in the way of actual musicology or music history in this book.

There are only cursory references to music of other cultures and very little acknowledgement of music from ot
East Bay J
Daniel J. Levitin has a cool job. This Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition and Expertise sounds like my Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. In an era where music isn't even taught in school, to study the effects of music on... well, everything, would be pretty cool.

The World In Six Songs, like This Is Your Brain On Music, is mind blowing. I'm still trying to process what I just read. The sheer amount of information, trivia, knowledge, philosophy and scientific data is phenomenal, as is the
Mar 21, 2013 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm going to keep the text of this review short and sweet because I really want to share with you some of the amazing music I discovered through this book. Basically, Dr. Levitin divides all human music into six categories that meet six different goals or provide outlets for certain human needs or emotions. Of course, there is some overlap between the categories, but they are: friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, and love. Dr. Levitin spends a great deal of time on the evolutionary asp ...more
Aug 23, 2011 Olgalijo rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
In most of my non fiction reads in the last times I have found a distressing trend: most of the male American non fiction writers have a tendency to find a real interesting topic, and then go on and wreck the book by making everything go around themselves. "The World in Six Songs" is a perfect example of this trend. You find:

1~ 25% of: When I was a child my grandma used to play piano...., or once I went to a conference in Finland....

2~ 25% of: I talked with my friend Sting (and he agrees with me
Interesting, but not at the same level as Levitin's previous book, This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. That one was more scientific/research-based, and I found it fascinating.

The World in Six Songs is much more speculative, about the role that music may have played in human evolution. Some of his speculations I found intriguing, others seemed like a bit of a stretch, and I found it a bit annoying that he felt he had to re-explain natural selection every single time he
Apr 22, 2013 scherzo♫ rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Page 9 and he's been irritating me since page 4 when he threw all instrumental music overboard.

Page 6, he decides there are only six kinds of song: friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion and love.

Immediately after this declaration, he tells us that his anthropologist friend told him he's on the wrong track. Which he ignores.

This would have been easier to accept if he had said that at this point he only has six things to say about the influence of music on "the evolution of human emotion,
King Haddock
It's an ambitious project, what Levitin's trying to do. He classifies the entire body of music literature throughout time, space, and history into six broad categories, then explains how fundamentally important each type of song is on human prehistory, history, neurology, sociology, etc. And so he says these six songs (aka ALL the world's songs) have extraordinary power: friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, and love.

It’s sort of easy to do that when you divide the entire world into six
Tony duncan
Feb 22, 2009 Tony duncan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone that musics effects deeply
I am really looking forward to reading this book. My main interest in his previous book "this is Your Brain on Music" was about the connection to human nature and apparently he goes whole hog into it with this one.

OK I read it and there are parts of it that are brilliant. he has done his homework, and he makes a very strong case for music being an essential component of what drove human evolution. this is a tremendous step forward from the old view that music and the other creative arts are just
Nov 28, 2009 Barry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The premise of this book is interesting - that there are six subject reasons for song and that song aids in credibility and memorability. There are some interesting physical and psychological arguments presented in supporting this contention.
But the book fails to be convincing and most of the book is on the author's opinions about a number of famous and not-so-famous songwriters he has met with to discuss the premise. Songs are quoted. Anecdotes related. But the book falls short of being a thesi
The author attempted to categorize music into six major categories, songs of knowledge, joy, friendship, religion, comfort, and love (not in that order, I forget the order) from a neuroscientific slash sociological point of view. While it was extremely interesting to read explanations about how our brain perceives music and how these kinds of songs have shaped our society, I found it hard to digest terms like "prefrontal cortex" in the midst. You just don't expect to see a word like that when yo ...more
Jun 05, 2009 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enlightening. This music researcher has an evolutionary psychology explanation for musical communication through songs, and the reader learns as much about this scientific framework for understanding human beings as about music ("this is your basal ganglia on love songs.") Having read The Moral Animal, my experience of this book was as an extension of evolutionary psychology thinking into my personal life as a music hobbyist, and frankly I found the experience a bit depressing. We respond to lov ...more
Iso Cambia
Art, at the dawn of human culture, was a key to survival, a sharpening of the faculties essential to the struggle for existence. Art, in my opinion, has remained a key to survival. - poet Herbert Read (38).

"Sound is different than sight," I offered, "because when you see things, it feels like they're out there, but when you hear them it feels like they're in here." I pointed to my head.
"Yes, sound joins the inner world to the outer world." (84)

Music produces a k
Jun 18, 2011 Orsolya rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, music, the-brain
Daniel Levitin, author of "This is your Brain on Music" sadly failed to capture the same astounding and interesting threads which made his previous book a must-read.

The premise is capturing: songs basically helped create human nature versus the other way around and some of the ideas really make you think (i.e. drum beats (music) helped motivate the cavemen to progress in their development). Further, this books says it won't categorize music because it is impossible to do but does just that.

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Daniel J. Levitin runs the Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University, where he holds the Bell Chair in the Psychology of Electronic Communication. Before becoming a neuroscientist, he worked as a session musician, sound engineer and record producer. He has written extensively both in scientific journals and music trade magazines such as Grammy and Billboard.

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