The World in Six Songs

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In this international best-seller, Levitin shows how the evolution of the human brain made possible music, art, science and society as we know them. He does all this while uncovering six fundamental ways that songs communicate emotion and ideas and so have built human nature. Levitin reveals the prehistoric and elegant systems at play when we sing and dance at weddings, cheer at a ball game, or tune out privately with an iPod. These six songs will enlighten your life in a way you will never forget.

Quotes and Reviews

  • "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

  • "To try to cover the meaning of music throughout the history of mankind to how we still use it everyday is extraordinarily ambitious. Combining musical expertise, psychology, anthropology and evolutionary science, Daniel Levitin's Six Songs has accomplished this astonishing task"

    - John Appleton

  • "Enthralling. An attempt to answer the enthralling question of why and how humans needed music to evolve. Levitin's answers are always interesting."

    - The Sunday Times London

  • "I was skeptical when I began reading. The stated goal seemed outlandish. But by the time I was about one-third the way into The World in Six Songs, I realized just how powerful it is. It really is a tour de force. It is exquisitely written, and brings together a vast array of knowledge, tying things together in creative ways, while always remaining accessible. This promises to be not only another widely read hit, but also an important document for the field of music cognition."

    - Jamshed Bharucha

  • "This wonderful, lucid book takes on one of the great eternal questions: Why is there music? What does music do for humanity—for individual development and for a culture--that in turn accounts for its existence in every known society? Daniel Levitin is not only the preeminent expert in answering such questions, but one of those unique writers about science who understands his field so profoundly that he can make the complex straightforward. This is an exciting, revelatory book."

    - Scott Turow

  • "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

  • "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

  • "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 irresitably entertaining and thought provoking journey. Anyone who loves music should read it."

    - Bobby McFerrin

  • "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

  • "In a brilliantly novel approach to human evolution, Levitin has sought to encapsulate diverse cultures in a set of six songs representative of friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion and love. That he is able to achieve so much with this small set of songs says something truly important about our common humanity."

    - Michael I. Posner

  • "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. It makes a purely Socratic distinction about something that isn't intellectualizable." [One week later:] "I take it back - I'm sorry! This is great!"

    - Joni Mitchell

  • "I don't like the idea of this at all. How can you tell the story of the world in six songs? Who does this guy think he is telling me what these six songs should be?" [A few hours later:] "Hmmm. . .This is kind of interesting. I think I could come up with six songs to tell the story of the world. . ."

    - Willie Nelson

  • "Passionate and insightful. Daniel Levitin has written a delightfully personal epic poem proposing a central role for music in the evolution of human emotion and behavior. Now, musicians and neuroscientists have a common vocabulary with which to argue our human origins."

    - Julie R. Korenberg

  • "I read every word, and even hummed along with many of the songs. It is a friendly, joyous, comforting, knowledgeable, religious, and lovely book. An amazing piece of work."

    - Lewis R. Goldberg

  • "Rewarding . . . an intriguing explanation for the power of music in our lives as individuals and as a society."

    - Publishers Weekly

  • "An enjoyable and easy read...a provocative thesis agreeably presented."

    - Kirkus Reviews

  • "Levitin creates a rich account of how music has allowed humans to thrive even when faced with war, loss, and dwindling romance."

    - Seed Magazine

  • "Insightful and stimulating, with personal anecdotes that add a poignant dimension anyone can relate to."

    - Gary Lucas

  • "He's an amazing guy: a successful music producer that went on to earn a PhD in neuroscience. As a professor at McGill University, he is now doing pioneering research on how music relates to the brain and vice versa. This book documents his studies and offers some unique theories. A fascinating read."

    - Alex Skolnick

  • "Captivating. . . Levitin goes beyond mere taxonomy in The World In Six Songs, by giving us a comprehensive genealogy and historical perspective on each song type, as well as audaciously tying together diverse scientific, philosophical and theological strands. Levitin is to be commended for approaching this subject with passion and verve and giving us a buffet of food for thought."

    - Toro Magazine

  • "It's a provocative theory and an ambitious undertaking, but Levitin is up to the task. Through interviews with musicians and evolutionary biologists and his own scientific research, Levitin forms a compelling argument. As important as this work is, Levitin keeps things light. The result is a tremendously fun yet thought-provoking book."

    - P. Egan

  • "I'll be goddamned if Levitin didn't just figure out what makes me tick and what would make the debacle called Humanity happier in the process. Read The World in Six Songs (it's going to bigger than his This Is Your Brain on Music)."

    - Library Journal

  • "Fresh, compelling. . . This one's worth not just a read but a couple of wonderful re-reads."

    - Reader's Digest

  • "The soundtrack of civilization. In his erudite, accessible book, Daniel Levitin charts the evolutionary link between music and the brain."

    - People Magazine

  • "For fans of Brain on Music this is a must-read. For other readers, this is a literary, poetic, scientific and musical treat waiting to be discovered."

    - The Seattle Times

  • "A lively, ambitious new book. It works much like a great piece of pop music, whose combined elements can induce feelings of enlightenment and euphoria. Levitin is able to show off his natural passion and estimable aptitude for writing about music."

    - The New York Times

  • "A truly fascinating book with enormous scope, The World in Six Songs provides music lovers, and others, with an education in music as it influenced human and cultural evolution. Levitin presents his information in a scientific yet approachable manner and keeps what could be a very heavy topic fun and anecdotal. [STAFF PICK OF THE WEEK]"

    - Powell's Bookstore

  • "Exquisitely well-written and easy to read, serving up a great deal of scientific information in a gentle way for those of us who are—or just think we are—a bit science-phobic. More than that, the book is fun. Who would have thought that a scientific hypothesis could be supported by the "Slinky" song or by Dylan's "Death is Not the End?"

    - Huffington Post

  • "Equal measures of neuroscience and Nick Hornby-esque enthusiasm... A rare feat, both brain workout and beach read, a book that explains the mysteries of oxytocin (the trust-inducing hormone released during communal singing as well as in women during childbirth) and why Sting chants "eh-oh" at the end of "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic."

    - The Very Short List

  • "Enthusiastically recommended...expansive, highly-readable, inspirational...brilliant, popularistic music commentary."

    - Chamber Music Today

  • "Daniel J. Levitin returns with the same smart, readable mix of science, personal anecdote and musical example that made last year's This Is Your Brain On Music so engaging. For anyone interested in music, evolution or the nature of society, this is a must-read."

    - Now Toronto

  • "His passionate journey into the hearts and minds of the musically obsessed is a fantastic ride. Along the way, you'll hang out with Sting, Joni Mitchell and Oliver Sacks, as well as people you likely won't have heard of but will be equally interested to meet, like music theorist Ian Cross."

    - New Scientist

  • "Fascinating. Provides a biological explanation for why we might tap our feet or bob our heads in time with a favorite song, how singing might soothe a baby, and how music emboldens soldiers or athletes preparing for conflict. An easy read."

    - Associated Press

  • "Thoughtful and wide-ranging...entertaining, captivating."

    - Evolutionary Psychology

  • "Daniel Levitin is one of the most interesting writers and thinkers about music in the world today."

    - Edwin Outwater

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