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The World in Six Songs


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Daniel Levitin is the James McGill Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at McGill University. Before entering academia he worked as a session musician, sound engineer and record producer, and has fourteen gold and platinum records to his credit. He has played professionally with Mel Torme, Blue Oyster Cult and David Byrne, and has worked on albums by artists including Stevie Wonder, Santana, Midnight Oil and The Carpenters. He has published extensively in scientific journals such as Science and Neuron and audio trade journals such as Grammy, Billboard and Audio, and is the author of the bestselling This Is Your Brain On Music, and The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature.


Charles Darwin meets the Beatles in this attempt to blend neuroscience and evolutionary biology to explain why music is such a powerful force. In this rewarding though often repetitious study by bestselling author Levitin (This Is Your Brain on Music), a rock musician turned neuroscientist, argues that music is a core element of human identity, paving the way for language, cooperative work projects and the recording of our lives and history. Through his studies, Levitin has identified six kinds of songs that help us achieve these goals: songs of friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion and love. He cites lyrics ranging from the songs of Johnny Cash to work songs, which, he says, promote feelings of togetherness. According to Levitin, evolution may have selected individuals who were able to use nonviolent means like dance and music to settle disputes. Songs also serve as "memory-aids," as records of our lives and legends. Some may find Levitin's evolutionary explanations reductionist, but he lightens the science with personal anecdotes and chats with Sting and others, offering an intriguing explanation for the power of music in our lives as individuals and as a society. (Aug.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Verdict: With protean musical reach and intellectual grasp, Levitin strides past academic boundaries, a Pied Piper celebrating diversity within community, in this exploration of music, emotion, and the brain. For all adult libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/08.] Background: In this follow-up to his New York Times best-selling This Is Your Brain on Music, musician-turned-neuroscientist Levitin explores our cerebral mansion, its history and beauty, wiring and acoustics. The tour, though silent on the page, enhances one's appreciation of music while explaining its evolutionary roots and continuing importance. Levitin sets out and then improvises on six themes: friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, and love. Unlike light, he points out, sound reaches us in the dark, around corners and opacities, and seems to originate inside our heads. "Early musicians...may have been better able to communicate emotionally, diffuse confrontation, and ease interpersonal tensions." Also they can "encode important survival information in songs." Now with a freer, more personal voice, Levitin provides an exemplary mix of scientist and artist, student and teacher, performer and listener.--E. James Lieberman, George Washington Univ., Washington, DC Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

'This is the worst idea for a book I've ever heard - it makes me want to vomit. The idea encapsulates the very worst part of Western thought.' One week later... 'I take it back - I'm sorry! This is great!' -- Joni Mitchell 'Without music we would be little more than animals. Mr Levitin explains it beautifully' -- Sir George Martin 'This is a fascinating, entertaining book, and some of its most inventive themes may stay stuck in your head forever, something like a well-loved song' -- Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

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