THE WORLD IN SIX SONGS by Daniel J. Levitin


How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature
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Music played a key role in making societies and civilizations possible.

So argues research scientist Levitin (Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition, and Expertise/McGill University; This Is Your Brain on Music, 2006, etc.), who believes that music and the human brain co-evolved. What distinguishes us from all other species, he declares, is not language or use of tools, but the impulse toward artistic expression. The auditory art of music became part of our brain’s wiring tens of thousands of years ago, and human nature has been shaped by six broad categories of songs, by which Levitin means music of all kinds. Devoting a chapter to each category—friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion and love—the author speculates about its origins and how it influenced the human spirit over thousands of generations. Levitin sees songs as efficient systems for preserving tribal histories, transmitting essential how-to information from generation to generation and communicating spiritual feelings and deep emotions. In his discussion of the music of friendship, he explores the role of synchronous, coordinated song and movement in creating strong bonds between early humans, arguing that these allowed the formation of large groups and, eventually, society as we know it. Besides citing research by sociologists, linguists, psychologists and biologists, the author illustrates his line of reasoning with a multitude of examples from his own extensive musical experience. Excerpts from familiar songs, conversations with musicians he knows and anecdotes from his years in the music industry make this an enjoyable and easy read. Whether evolutionary scientists will be persuaded remains to be seen, but they will surely be entertained.

A provocative thesis agreeably presented.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-525-95073-8
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2008


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