One book to give: Jonathan Goldstein recommends David Eagleman

The season of gift-giving has arrived! And there's no better gift to give than a great book. The only question is, which one? With that in mind, CBC Books approached some of the familiar voices of CBC Radio and asked: If you could give just one book this year, what book would it be?

Here's what WireTap's Jonathan Goldstein had to say about his pick, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman.


It's difficult finding perfect stories for the radio. The language has to be simple, pared down and engage you at every step, because it's like you're leading the listener along by the hand.

With Eagleman, I feel like I lucked into the perfect man for the medium. His language is so spare and yet so precise. There's never a word to be trimmed. All to say that here's a book that, while only a little over a hundred pages, contains worlds. And also to say that if you want to gift a book to someone who isn't the biggest reader in the world, this shouldn't be off-putting.

Eagleman is a neuroscientist who does all sorts of fascinating and kind of mad experiments (like dropping people from great heights in order to study their perception of time as they're falling). And with this book he brings a scientist's inductive mind to bear on the impossible question of what might become of us once we are no more. He presents a series of 40 afterlife scenarios, each one unique, singular and sometimes as plausible as anything we've learned in Sunday school. In one afterlife, we become subdivided into all of our various ages. In another, our identity is reconstructed from only credit reports and internet browsing history. And then there's the one where God is a married couple, constantly fighting over the fate of the world. These are short, haiku-like catechisms that can be sad, funny, terrifying or ironic, but they're all written in economical, poetic language that will instil a sense of wonder.


Jonathan Goldstein is the host of CBC Radio One's WireTap. His writing has appeared in The Walrus, the New York Times, GQ, and the National Post. He is a frequent contributor to PRI's This American Life and the New York Times Magazine, and was a 2002 co-recipient of The Third Coast Audio Festival's Gold Prize. In 2004, he was awarded a Canadian National Magazine award for humour. He is also the author of two books of fiction, the novel Lenny Bruce is Dead and (most recently) Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bible!, a comic retelling of Biblical tales that is available for purchase at fine independent bookstores across the country.

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