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Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  14,942 ratings  ·  2,030 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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Average rating 4.14  · 
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 ·  14,942 ratings  ·  2,030 reviews

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Jun 06, 2010 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
Nov 10, 2008 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
Will Byrnes
Nov 27, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Jul 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Twilight Zone lovers
“Everyone is a brother to all, and for the first time an idea has been realized that never came to fruition on Earth: true equality. The Communists are baffled and irritated, because they have finally achieved their perfect society, but only by the help of a God in whom they don’t want to believe. The meritocrats are abashed that they’re stuck for eternity in an incentiveless system with a bunch of pinkos. The conservatives have no penniless to disparage; the liberals have no downtrodden to pr
MJ Nicholls
Mar 29, 2012 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 moveme ...more
Tom Quinn
Jun 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Now I've read Sum twice. First on a plane flight in one big sitting, then years later one story a day for 40 days. Honestly, the first way was better. The stories that are good are really, really good. But none of them have much staying power, so the emotional rollercoaster of reading them one after another was more fun and more resonant than taking my time.

5 stars on my first reading, 4 stars on my second.
Apr 13, 2009 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
Jul 19, 2009 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
Jul 07, 2011 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
Mar 16, 2009 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.
Alyssa Banguilan
Mar 22, 2009 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....?
Amy | littledevonnook
Mar 01, 2016 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
Mar 16, 2009 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.
Resh (The Book Satchel)
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Pure delight to those who love speculations and out-of-the-world stories. Pun intended.
May 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was pleasantly surprised right after reading the first story itself. A really easy read yet so happening for the imaginative!

Sum is written by the neurologist, David Eagleman. In his mini tales from the afterlife melancholy is mixed with a peculiar sense of humor. He creates different backdrops for the stories and takes them as they would proceed in the Afterlife. One would expect a pleasant life definitely. But each of them is touching in their own way. It also turns out that not every concei
Oct 20, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
A collection of forty short texts describing different possible afterlives that gives you a few gems here and there, but also leaves a lot to be desired. The characters are completely anonymous - which is fine. This is simply a collection of thought experiments.

In one story we are atoms in Gods body, in another the dead are not allowed to rest until everyone alive have forgotten about them (Shakespeare must be pretty mad by now if this one turns out to be true). There are a lot of stories circl
Aug 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read Thai version last night. A good translation and very thought-provoking. Recommended!
May 25, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to unknown 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
Mar 15, 2009 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.
Apr 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

Full review:
Lara Messersmith-Glavin
Mar 25, 2009 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 o
Apr 09, 2012 rated it liked it
Interesting that on a reread and many years after first reading this, I have lowered my rating! It’s a quick read and thought provoking but I found the stories a little hit and miss. They were snippets of ideas. I wonder if my reading taste has changed- I used to be much more engaged with ideas of life after death, so it’s weird that as I get older and presumably closer to finding out the truth for myself, I’m less interested!
Dave Cullen
Jan 06, 2010 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
Jun 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Sum is a slim book, just 100 pages long, with 40 different views of what the afterlife might be like. Some of them feel too glib and flippant for me (though no doubt the same stories would make others smile), but there are some that are really inventive, bittersweet and clever, and some that just have really good lines. Like this one:

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
Apr 15, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommended to Alan by: short review
Shelves: short-stories
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
Lisa Reads & Reviews
Jul 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lisa 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.
Cindy Knoke
Jul 28, 2011 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.
Engin Türkgeldi
Jan 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
All 40 stories in this book are about afterlife. These are not your typical stories. They do not have a plot, characters, or even a clear clear beginning or an end. These are more like meditations on life. They contemplate on what afterlife may be like. The stories are highly creative, original and witty, and they rarely fail to amuse you(or make you smile).

The theme of the book is "afterlife". This may mislead you that this book has a religious or holy side, or it is a spiritual book. However,
Jul 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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, an internationally bestselling author, a TED speaker, and a Guggenheim Fellow. He teaches neuroscience at Stanford University and is CEO of a neurotech startup. At night he writes. His books have been translated into 33 languages.

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22 likes · 5 comments
“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.” 526 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.” 76 likes
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