Sum : Tales from the Afterlives, Paperback Book

Sum : Tales from the Afterlives Paperback

4 out of 5 (4 ratings)


In the afterlife you may find that God is the size of a microbe and unaware of your existence. Or you may find the afterlife contains only those people whom you remember.

In some afterlives you are split into all your different ages, in some you are recreated based on your credit card records, and in others you are forced to live with annoying versions of yourself that represent what you could have been. In these wonderfully imagined tales - at once funny, wistful and unsettling - Eagleman kicks over the chessboard of traditional notions and offers us a dazzling lens through which to see ourselves here and now.

His stories are rooted in science and romance and awe at our mysterious existence: a mixture of hope, love and death that cuts through human nature at innovative angles.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Philosophy
  • ISBN: 9781847674272

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Showing 1 - 4 of 4 reviews.

Review by

This is a book of 40 very short episodes (most are two or three pages), each one of which posits a different afterlife. There are some common themes which crop up in multiple stories - creators, in one form or another, baffled by their human creations; the tiny scale of human existence (a bit like the machine in [Hitchhiker] which drove people mad by showing them their true place in the universe); or paradoxical situations where what seems like paradise is actually hell - such as the world where God gives the sinners eternal life, because he is so bored by it that he feels that nothing could be a greater reward than oblivion. This could have meant that the stories were too repetitive, but I think the book is saved from that by some of the other overarching themes: the dramatic contrast between the theoretical capacity of the human body, mind and emotions and what we actually do with them, which leaves you with a smile on your face - and the interconnectedness of humanity and the incomprehensible importance of love, which makes that smile a warm one.Sample sentence: <i>After some questioning, you discover that God's favourite book is Shelley's [Frankenstein]. He sits up at night with a worn copy of the book clutched in His mighty hands, alternately reading the book and staring reflectively into the night sky.</i>

Review by

Does what it says on the cover: forty (extremely short) tales of possible afterlives. These are philosophical rather than theological exercises, and the afterlives in question are exclusively modern Western – no Valhallas here, no Gehennas, no meetings with the Hindu pantheon, or with the Chinese gods, no Elysian Fields; there are Heavens and Hells, or nothings and neithers. There is a Heaven where Mary Shelley is venerated, there are afterlives where we are cogs in a machine (not the most original of concepts, that one), there are afterlives where we finally move on only after our name is spoken for the last time – the famous fare particularly badly here – there is an afterlife where everything exists in all possible states at once, and another where everything in your life is repeated in blocks rather than as individual events … The author is a neuroscientist, and you'll find a little of everything here. Everything except actual faith. As to whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, I decline to comment.

Review by

Insightful, thought-provoking and, what's more: funny. Although the touch is light and the stories (and the whole volume) are very short, there is some real depth here. I already know I will want to return to this book now and again, perhaps just to dip into one story at a time, because they do risk blending together otherwise and they deserve some afterthought.Another bonus: the beautiful cover design!By the way, I originally put it on my wishlist because it was highly recommended by Stephen Fry on Twitter, I believe. There are few people whose judgement I rate so highly...

Review by

There are more ideas packed into its 110 small pages than you'll find in a complete case of business books, Eagleman's first work of fiction, it's forty imaginings of what happens after death - none of which feature pearly gates or fluffy clouds. Astonishing economy in the writing, much of it is almost prose-poetry. But it's the richness of the ideas that really captures. Slip it into your briefcase and dip in when you need inspiration - if only to make you appreciate what you have right here, right now.

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