The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature

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The author of the New York Times bestseller This Is Your Brain on Music reveals music's role in the evolution of human culture-and "will leave you awestruck" (The New York Times)

Daniel J. Levitin's astounding debut bestseller, This Is Your Brain on Music, enthralled and delighted readers as it transformed our understanding of how music gets in our heads and stays there. Now in his second New York Times bestseller, his genius for combining ...

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The author of the New York Times bestseller This Is Your Brain on Music reveals music's role in the evolution of human culture-and "will leave you awestruck" (The New York Times)

Daniel J. Levitin's astounding debut bestseller, This Is Your Brain on Music, enthralled and delighted readers as it transformed our understanding of how music gets in our heads and stays there. Now in his second New York Times bestseller, his genius for combining science and art reveals how music shaped humanity across cultures and throughout history.

Dr. Levitin identifies six fundamental song functions or types-friendship, joy, comfort, religion, knowledge, and love-then shows how each in its own way has enabled the social bonding necessary for human culture and society to evolve. He shows, in effect, how these "six songs" work in our brains to preserve the emotional history of our lives and species.

Dr. Levitin combines cutting-edge scientific research from his music cognition lab at McGill University and work in an array of related fields; his own sometimes hilarious experiences in the music business; and illuminating interviews with musicians such as Sting and David Byrne, as well as conductors, anthropologists, and evolutionary biologists. The World in Six Songs is, ultimately, a revolution in our understanding of how human nature evolved-right up to the iPod.

Read Daniel Levitin's posts on the Penguin Blog.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A must-read. . .A literary, poetic, scientific, and musical treat."
-Seattle Times

"An exemplary mix of scientist and artist, student and teacher, performer and listener."
-Library Journal, starred review

"A fantastic ride."
-New Scientist

"Leading researchers in music cognition are already singing its praises."
-Evolutionary Psychology

Oliver Sacks
Endlessly stimulating, a marvelous overview, and one which only a deeply musical neuroscientist could give. (Oliver Sacks, M.D., author of Musicophilia)
Nancy Pearl
The book I've been waiting for all my life. (Nancy Pearl, public radio librarian and auth or of the Book Lust series)
David Byrne
I loved reading that music coordinates more disparate parts of the brain than almost anything else. . . . Deepens the beautiful mystery that is music. (David Byrne, founder of Talking Heads)
New York Times
Dr. Levitin is an unusually deft interpreter full of striking scientific trivia.
Library Journal

In this follow-up to his New York Times best-selling This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, Levitin argues that every song ever written can fall within six categories and that music "is a core element of our identity as a species, an activity that paved the way for more complex behaviors." While he includes a wide variety of song examples to support his argument, his explanations of evolutionary causations for music become repetitive. As for his narration, it is dry and, at times, embarrassing-as when he reads lighthearted song lyrics meant to be sung. Sloppy editing causes some tracks to start mid-word, and the discs lack sequential announcements. Surprisingly, the recording does not take advantage of the medium by including any significant music samplings. Further, the notes from the hardcover edition are omitted here. Of limited interest to public and perhaps high school libraries. [Audio clip available through; the Dutton hc received a starred review, LJ Xpress 7/22/08.-Ed.]
—Johannah Genett

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452295483
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/28/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 272,916
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel J. Levitin runs the Levitin Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition, and Expertise at McGill University, where he holds the Bell Chair in the Psychology of Electronic Communications. Before becoming a neuroscientist, he was a record producer with gold records to his credit and professional musician. He has published extensively in scientific journals and music trade magazines such as Grammy and Billboard.

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Table of Contents

The World in Six SongsChapter 1: Taking It from the Top or "The Hills Are Alive . . ."

Music and poetry. The two uniquely human components of the music brain.

Chapter 2: Friendship or "War (What Is It Good For)?"

Social bonding, synchronous coordinated movement, the evolution of emotional bonding, protest music for group cohesion.

Chapter 3: Joy or "Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut"

The first song. Neurochemical effects of music and music therapy.

Chapter 4: Comfort or "Before There Was Prozac, There Was You"

Why we listen to sad music when we're sad. Lullabyes and the blues. (And a short story about depressed restaurant workers pushed to the edge by a happy song.)

Chapter 5: Knowledge or "I Need to Know"

Music as an information-bearing medium. Learning, memory, and oral histories.

Chapter 6: Religion or "People Get Ready"

The role of music and ritual in creating order, reducing ambiguity, and commemorating important times and events.

Chapter 7: Love or "Bring 'Em All In"

The sense of hearing and the prefrontal cortex. Tools, musical instruments, and shaping the environment. The evolution of social structure.


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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 12, 2012

    "The World In Six Songs" picks up right where "Th

    "The World In Six Songs" picks up right where "This Is Your Brain On
    Music" leaves off. As Levitan gets closer to his hopeful hypothesis in
    the latter, he thinks he has found it and explains thoroughly in "Six
    Songs". He begins by establishing the known facts that support him,
    like the unmistakable emotional power of song. He ask the audience to
    notice this quality of music. This is the style of Levitan. He asks
    you to notice things you already know and spells out the connections.
    Using metaphors and personal experiences he brings you to the truth he
    wants you to discover. Tracing music through all of evolution is quite
    the ambitious goal but he puts forth that music was one of the first
    ways of communication between man. If this intrigues you, you should
    be reading the book by now. Levitan is a gleeful pushy guy about his
    theories, so those more attracted to hard objective science might be
    less inclined to listen to his tone. If you don;t might his excitement
    then pick up the book and learn why you sing to your baby or feel so
    happy at concerts.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted December 24, 2013

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    Posted January 19, 2013

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