Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlives
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In the twenty-first century, when the American consumer can choose from among hundreds of flat-screen TVs, David Eagleman’s pocket-size work of philosofiction, Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlives, is nothing if not culturally consistent: With both a childlike sense of wonder and a trenchant flair for irony, the Baylor College of Medicine neuroscientist generously offers forty variations on the theme of God and the afterlife, imagining what each of us might find when we shuffle off this mortal coil. In the chapter titled “Conservation,” he posits that the big bang theory is “almost exactly wrong” and that, rather than being the product of one great event, the universe is regularly drawn and redrawn in Etch A Sketch fashion by a single quark. Or perhaps we might wake up dead and discover that God is an acrimoniously separated married couple (“Missing”) or a gaggle of small, dim-witted creatures who badger us with the very question we hoped would be resolved: “Do you have answer?” (“Spirals”). Sum is great fun—sort of a brainy parlor game in print—and a modest satire aimed at zealots who define heaven and God to serve their own ends. It is also a reminder that when it comes to our knowledge of the hereafter, we have loads of faith but not a scintilla of proof. Pantheon Books, $20