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

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

by Daniel J. Levitin

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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 in this thought-provoking book that “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.

Here he 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101043455
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/19/2008
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 643,387
File size: 3 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Daniel J. Levitin, Ph.D., is the New York Times bestselling author of This Is Your Brain on MusicThe World in Six SongsThe Organized Mind, and Weaponized Lies. His work has been translated into 21 languages. An award-winning scientist and teacher, he is Founding Dean of Arts & Humanities at the Minerva Schools at KGI, a Distinguished Faculty Fellow at the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley, and the James McGill Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Music at McGill University, Montreal, where he also holds appointments in the Program in Behavioural Neuroscience, The School of Computer Science, and the Faculty of Education. Before becoming a neuroscientist, he worked as a session musician, sound engineer, and record producer working with artists such as Stevie Wonder and Blue Oyster Cult. He has published extensively in scientific journals as well as music magazines such as Grammy and Billboard. Recent musical performances include playing guitar and saxophone with Sting, Bobby McFerrin, Rosanne Cash, David Byrne, Cris Williamson, Victor Wooten, and Rodney Crowell.

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.


What People are Saying About This

Scott Turow

"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, author of Presumed Innocent and Ordinary Heroes)


"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."

Elizabeth Gilbert

"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 stick in your head forever, something like a well-loved song."--(Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love)

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

Jamshed Bharucha

"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, Provost and Professor of Psychology, Tufts University)

Jon Appleton

"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."--(Jon Appleton, Composer and Professor of Music, Dartmouth College and Stanford University)

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The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
westermantyler1 More than 1 year ago
"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.
readermom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book I half liked. The part about the songs we love as human beings, the types that run through all sorts of cultures and times. That was great as the author has a wonderfully diverse sense of music and really went to great lengths to insure he was well rounded in talking about songs the world over. There were some great comparisons and some new thoughts. You have to love a book that references the Bible and Lord of the Rings in the same paragraph.But then the section the subtitle refers to just irritated me. Perhaps I shouldn't have been reading this book with a massive headache, but the evolution sections were annoying. Its not that I have anything against evolution, but using it to explain social phenomena always seems hit or miss to me. Sometimes the examples and assumptions are unlikely to the point of being silly. The one that comes to mind is the thought that groups who buried their dead found an evolutionary benefit because it was more hygienic-so they were a tiny bit healthier than other groups. But weren't these ancient groups nomadic? So there would be just as much hygienic value in leaving the bodies at the old campsite. Or just dragging them off where you couldn't smell them any more. Or what of cannibalistic groups? They wouldn't have to spend the energy digging a great big hole and they would get extra protein. I could come up with questions about this particular theory all day. It was mentioned in the book by the way, in the section on religious songs. I think that is another reason I didn't like the evolutionary posts, the author seemed to be bringing in a lot of behaviour evolution to support his thesis, whether it was relevant or not.
motjebben on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Enjoyable read! Levitin explores the effect that six categories of "songs" have had on human evolution, communication-to-language, and society. He illustrates his hypotheses with snippets of lyrics, and includes interesting comments from song-writers like Sting and Joni Mitchell, which enhance the book. This is NOT much of a neuroscience book as Levitin's previous book is; it is more a speculation on evolution, though not particularly deep. That is, I feel that the book is only an introduction to a theory that songs have shaped the world, but it is an enjoyable read that I hope is followed up with continuing research, study, and analysis.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago