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The World In Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature [Hardcover]

Daniel Levitin
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Aug. 5 2008
Daniel Levitin's new book showcases his daring theory of "six songs," illuminating how the brain evolved to play and listen to music in six fundamental forms- for knowledge, friendship, ceremony, joy, comfort, and love. Levitin shows how music and dance enabled the social bonding and friendship necessary for human culture and society to evolve. Blending cutting-edge scientific findings with his own sometimes hilarious experiences as a musician and music-industry professional, Levitin's sweeping study also incorporates wisdom gleaned from interviews with icons ranging from Sting and Paul Simon to Joni Mitchell,Willie Nelson, and David Byrne. The result is a brilliant revelation of the prehistoric yet elegant systems at play when we sing and dance at a wedding or cheer at a concert-or tune out quietly with an iPod.


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From Publishers Weekly

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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Review

"Daniel Levitin takes the most sophisticated ideas that exist about the brain and mind, applies them to the most emotionally direct art we have, our songs, and makes beautiful music of the two together." -- Adam Gopnik, Essayist, The New Yorker and Author, "Paris to the Moon"

"I loved 'The World in Six Songs.' Daniel Levitin writes about music with all the exuberance of a die-hard fan, and all the insight of a natural-born scientist. 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"

"Music seems to have an almost willful, evasive quality, defying simple explanation, so that the more we find out, the more there is to know, leaving its power and mystery intact, however much we may dig and delve. Daniel's book is an eloquent and poetic exploration of this paradox. There may be no simple answer or end in sight, but the ride is nonetheless a thrilling one, especially in the company of a writer who is an accomplished musician, a poet, a hard-nosed scientist, and someone who can still look upon the universe with a sense of wonder." -- Sting

"The human mind is an amazing thing and its greatest attribute is imagination; from this has come great inventions, medical discoveries and art. All those great works from Bach onwards up to the present day have come from the fertile imagination of the human brain. Without music, the most sublime of arts, we would be little more than animals. In SIX SONGS, Mr. Levitin explains it all beautifully." -- Sir George Martin, CBE, Producer of The Beatles

"Why can a song make you cry in a matter of seconds? From classical to contemporary music, SIX SONGS is the only book that explains why. With original and awe-inspiring insights into the nature of human artistry, it's an irresistably entertaining and thought-provoking journey. Anyone who loves music should read it." -- Bobby McFerrin, Singer, Composer ("Don't Worry Be Happy"), Conductor (Vienna Philharmonic)

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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars condition May 9 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have not had a chance to read yet, but would like to comment only on the condition of the book. It was in perfect condition and as I am reading the other book by same author, I am hoping that this will be as enjoyable.
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Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  37 reviews
111 of 120 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unsupported Assertions, Anecdotes and Puffery Jan. 19 2009
By Robert Carlberg - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Like many other reviewers here I was entranced by Levitin's first book, and eagerly dug into this new one expecting more of the same. What a disappointment! One is immediately put off by the constant name-dropping like "my good friend Joni Mitchell," "Sting confided to me..." and "when I was on-stage at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium with Mel Tormé...."

Add to this the fact that Levitin makes a lot of non-obvious broad statements without offering any supporting evidence; for examples snapping fingers to music uses up cortisol (pg. 101), cavemen used songs to remember geography (pg. 108), it is more difficult to fake sincerity in music than in spoken language (pg. 141) and of course the "there are only six types of songs in the world" assertion of the title.

Finally, Levitin keeps derailing the book with long rambling personal stories, most of which have little if anything to do with his subject matter. Though amusing and humanizing they are a distraction and ultimately become another irritant.

There *is* a lot of good information in the book, and the reader learns a lot of interesting facts and ponderable hypotheses. Too bad the presentation is so obnoxious.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Where is the ethnomusicology? July 2 2010
By S. L. Thornton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
2.0 out of 5 stars Seriously unreadable, July 2, 2010
By Shannon Thornton-Walsh (Dallas, TX USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature (Paperback)
I'm giving two stars, because I didn't feel fully justified in giving one star, seeing as I've only read one quarter of the way through Levitin's book. I ordered it as a free sample from the publisher, who was promoting it as a possible secondary or optional classroom text. I was intrigued. My doctoral research was in ethnomusicology.

I started to read soon after I received the book last year but was immediately put off by one of Levitin's opening statements: "Anthropologists, archaeologists, biologists, and psychologists all study human origins, but relatively little attention has been paid to the origins of music." Huh? OK. Probably true and for good reason. Evidence for music in early human culture is overwhelming, but determining the "why" is an enterprise fraught with complexity and ambiguity. But Anthropology has two entire subfields devoted to evolution on the one hand and the study of music in culture, on the other, which seems to me to be two of the best places to start. Levitin acknowledges and draws on the first, mostly not very confidently, and ignores the second.

I lent the book to a friend and recently received it back and thought I'd push past my initial resistance. Levitin draws on cross-cultural examples to begin supporting his thesis, but not once in the entire book can I find a single reference to any of the pioneering work done by ethnomusicologists. Perhaps this is because Levitin only sourced the work of anthropologists, not music/culture specialists within that field. Why the obvious elision of the entire field of study? It seems to me that more source material from that field would be pretty germane to his thesis. Again, I'm only 1/4 of the way into the book, so more may be coming again, under the guise of anthropological sources, but I'm not likely to continue. The oversight is staggering.

Levitin's grasp of evolutionary theory even seems weak; he makes up examples to illustrate how natural selection works in order to illustrate how this might work with music and song writing ability, and his strongest evidence - despite his recognition that world's store of music consists of a staggering diversity - comes from his analysis of Western pop songs. He seems to be drawing more on his experience working in the music industry than his work as a neuroscientist. I can see how his ideas might make for mildly interesting and entertaining undergraduate seminars in American colleges. Not very convincing reading straight out of the gate.

I finally put this down after reading Levitin's irrelevent digression into his childhood experience of the Vietnam War. Seriously.

If anyone can convince me - as an anthropologist or ethnomusicologist - to continue reading, I'm listening. There's a far more interesting title on my to-read list: The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body, by Steven Mithen.
44 of 51 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars nice try Oct. 19 2008
By Peregrino - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed "This is Your Brain on Music" and anticipated a similar combination of witty, widely observed (pop, jazz, classical), and helpfully presented (science-for-non-specialists) material. All those qualities are present but distractingly encumbered by puffery (yes, yes, you lunch with rock stars and academic luminaries) and organization-by-digression. The dangers of first success? A timid editor? I'd wait for a revised edition.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing May 4 2010
By Don65 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I thought the first and last third of Levitin's first book, "This is your brain on music" were excellent. The middle third was a bit slow. Unfortunately, all of "The World in Six Songs" is slow. The book is full of preposterous statements unsupported by anything other than wild speculation. The best parts are where he repeats information he shared in in his first book. The worst parts are the rambling personal anecdotes which have nothing whatsoever to do with the purported objective of the book.

Read "This is your brain on music" - avoid "The World in Six Songs."
66 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Songs in the key of life Aug. 24 2008
By Julie Neal - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This fascinating book explores the powerful force music has played in shaping our common humanity. It's evolution, with a backbeat. Author Levitin makes the case that six basic types of songs have existed throughout the course of human history, all over the world. Mankind, apparently, shares a soundtrack.

The six broad categories of music are songs about friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion and love. Each has a different function, but all serve to bind us together. They make us stronger as a species.

Levitin, a musician and scientist, cites anthropologists, evolutionary biologists, neurosurgeons, psychologists, and many famous musicians in this book. He includes lyrics from a great range of songs, including "At Seventeen," "The Hokey Pokey," "I Walk the Line," "Twist and Shout," and "Log Blues" from Ren & Stimpy.

Music can be so evocative. A snippet of song can take you back to the exact moment you heard it in childhood or high school or whenever. It's like there is a direct link that exists in the human brain between music and memory.

This books tells us that Americans spend more money on music than they do on prescription drugs or sex, and the average American hears more than five hours of music per day. It's obviously important to us. After reading The World in Six Songs, you'll have a much better idea why.

Here's the chapter list:

1. Taking It from the Top or "The Hills Are Alive..."
2. Friendship or "War (What Is It Good For)?"
3. Joy or "Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut"
4. Comfort or "Before There Was Prozac, There Was You"
5. Knowledge or "I Need to Know"
6. Religion or "People Get Ready"
7. Love or "Bring `Em All In"
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