David Eagleman is a neuroscientist and a fiction writer. During the day, he
directs the Laboratory for Perception and Action and the Initiative on
Neuroscience and Law at Baylor College of Medicine. He is best known
for his work on time perception, synesthesia, and neurolaw. At
night, he is a fiction writer. His debut work of fiction, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, became an international bestseller and is published in 22 languages.
with David Eagleman
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approximately like people said it would: vast gardens of flora and
fauna, angels with harps, San Diego weather. But when you first
arrived, you were surprised to find that everything was in disrepair.
The gardens were vastly overgrown. The angels were gaunt, sitting on
blankets with small paper cups for change in front of their dented
harps. They tinkled out a small ditty as you walked by. The day was
warm but the sky was gray with smog. God is gone. The rumor is
that He stepped out long ago, saying he’d be right back."
Reviewed by Daniela I. Norris
A modest yet subtly sophisticated design allows one to carry this book
in the smallest bag, and good thing, too. It is a book you’ll want to
flip through again and again, on the morning of a particularly gray
day, on your way to work in the crowded underground or any time you
need to remind yourself that life is not so bad, and it, too, shall
tales from the afterlives" is a minimalistic description for these
short-shorts (rarely more than two pages each) that definitely go
beyond a simple "tale". These are pieces of brilliantly crafted ideas
that stay with the reader well beyond the hour or day they were read.
David Eagleman, presented on the inside back cover simply as "a
neuroscientist and a writer", is clearly a great thinker, too. One
example is the brilliant Descent of
the afterlife, you are treated to a generous opportunity: you can
choose whatever you would like to be in the next life. Would you like
to be a member of the opposite sex? Born into royalty? A philosopher
with bottomless profundity? A soldier facing triumphant battles?
But perhaps you’ve just returned here from a hard life. Perhaps you
were tortured by the enormity of the decisions and responsibilities
that surrounded you, and now there’s only one thing you yearn for:
insights and ideas go far beyond the standard definition of "stories".
They are as bright as stars and as thought provoking as Hawking’s Brief History of Time.
Yet Eagleman seems to be having a good laugh while putting them on
paper. He does not take them, or himself as the crafter of these ideas,
"In the afterlife you find yourself in a
beautiful land of milk and honey: there is no poverty, starvation, or
warfare, only rolling hills and Lilliputian angels and evocative music.
You discover that you are allowed to ask one question of your Maker.
You’re led ceremoniously through the glistening arcades of the palace
to the great hall, where your Maker sits enthroned in lights that hurt
your eyes. You cannot direct your gaze fully at Him. Nonetheless, you
stand bravely in front of Him and ask, ‘Why do you live in a place like
this, so far from Earth, instead of living down in the trenches with
us?'" (from Distance).
The answer to this question will make you smile understandingly.
Another such deep yet highly amusing example can be found in Mary:
you arrive in the afterlife, you find that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
sits on a throne. She is cared for and protected by a covey of angels.
After some questioning, you discover that God’s favorite book is
Shelley’s Frankenstein. He
sits up at night with a worn copy of the book clutched in His mighty
hands, alternatively reading the book and staring reflectively into the
night sky. Like Victor Frankenstein, God considers Himself a medical
doctor, a biologist without parallel, and He has a deep, painful
relationship with any story about the creation of life."
I would not normally reveal the end of a story, but in this one I must,
for it illustrates why this collection is a must-have:
is why he now locks Himself in His room, and at night sneaks out onto
the roof with Frankenstein, reading again and again how Dr. Victor
Frankenstein is taunted by his merciless monster across the Arctic ice.
And God consoles Himself with the thought that all creation necessarily
ends in this: Creators, powerless, fleeing from the things they have
The unpretentiousness and brilliance of this small
book makes it unique among collections of short stories. At least for a
while, this will be my new pocket bible.