Blog Post

This is Your Brain on Music--in Paperback!

A few months ago I reviewed three of my favorite books on hearing, sound, and sound production. One, THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON MUSIC, by Daniel Levitin, is not only one of my favorite books on music but it is also one of my favorite books on the brain. (I called it "a music-lovers guide to the brain.") He doesn't fall into that cartographic determinism (left brain/right brain) silliness of some neuroscientists and popularizers of neuroscience but has a sophisticated view of the brain, the way it learns, remembers, produces, creates in very complex fashion. No reductionism here and, again rare among brain scientists, he remembers that brains are learning instruments and learning happens within cultures (he is a childhood friend, he writes, of cultural anthropologist Jim Ferguson, who also happens to be one of my favorite anthropologists----nice friendship; some of each discipline may have worn off on both of these wonderful scholars. By the way, I've never met either; I'm just an innocent bystander and fan.)

THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON MUSIC is now available in paperback. Equally great, there is now a website where you can hear all the music and sounds that Levitin writes about. Fabulous. Truly. The rest of this blog is the author's email about the new paperback (with a link) as well as about the sonified website. (By the way, given the sorry state of publishing these days, I really admire authors who flog their own books. If we don't no one will; and with the demise of independent bookstores, we have to if we want books to survive. Since I love books as much as I love digital stuff, I am pleased Dan Levitin is doing this so I'm quoting from his email below and urge you to buy his book in paper, read it, and listen to his website. What a pleasure!)


Copied from Dan Levitin's adorable email re the paperback of THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON MUSIC and the website:

"I'm writing to let you know that "This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession" (published by Plume/Penguin Publishing) is now out in paperback and either at a bookstore near you or a mouseclick away. The book makes a great gift item and as they used to say in MAD Magazine, it is also suitable for wrapping fish. Or gosh forbid if you actually read it, I'm told it can cure even the most intractable cases of insomnia. If you were thinking of buying a copy of this book for these or any other reason, my publisher tells me that it would be good to buy a copy this week because this is the week they're promoting it and sales this week will determine whether they let me write another book. What a business!

The book should be at all independent and chain bookstores in North America by now. It's Amazon page is here and they're discounting it heavily - $10.20:

or for you Canadians, eh?

The book's website has sound examples for virtually every song mentioned in the book, and a sample chapter if you're still not sure you want to buy it.

Thanks for your support and I'm sorry for the intrusion. Please feel free to distribute this widely.



"Endlessly stimulating, a marvelous overview, and one which only a deeply musical neuroscientist could give. Daniel Levitin has a huge knowledge of music developed since the 1950s (and of Blues, Jazz, and etc. before this), and not merely a formal but a deep personal knowledge as an expert performer no less than as a listener. I especially liked the discussion of 'safe' and 'dangerous' music, and I very much liked the final chapter on the evolutionary origins of music. An important book."
Oliver Sacks, M.D.

"A dissection of music perception and creation that starts slowly and inexorably builds to a grand finish. I loved reading that listening to music coordinates more disparate parts of the brain than almost anything else--and playing music uses even more! Despite illuminating a lot of what goes on this book doesn't "spoil" enjoyment- it only deepens the beautiful mystery that is music."
David Byrne (Musician, Artist, Founder, Talking Heads)

"Levitin is at the forefront of those working on what may be one of the great unsolved mysteries in science today, music's genetic, evolutionary, and cognitive origins. His studies are among the cleverest and best the field has seen."
Francis Crick, Nobel Laureate, Co-discoverer of DNA, Former Director, Salk Institute for Biological Studies

"I know Dan to have a deep musical knowledge and strong intellect combined with a warm spirit and a big heart. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music, a fine writer and the ability to make difficult concepts very clear."
Stevie Wonder

"Every musician, at whatever level of skill, should read this book. And that means all of us."
Howie Klein, Former President Sire and Reprise/Warner Brothers Records

"A layperson's guide to the emerging neuroscience of music. Dr. Levitin is an unusually deft interpreter, full of striking scientific trivia; he is a cognitive psychologist who runs the Laboratory for Music Perception, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University in Montreal, perhaps the world's leading lab in probing why music has such an intense effect on us."
The New York Times, January 31, 2006

"Levitin is a deft and patient explainer of the basics for the non-scientist as well as the non-musician. . . Aimed squarely at the general reader, "This Is Your Brain on Music" successfully unravels some of that long chain of neural events without getting tangled up in it. . . Levitin helps quantify some of music's magic without breaking its spell."
Los Angeles Times

"Artful and elegant. Simultaneously scientist, music professional and seductively graceful writer, Levitin gets to the very crux of the truth-is- beauty equation that the mystery of music represents. No other book comes close."
Sandy Pearlman Record Producer (Clash, Blue Oyster Cult), Manager (Black Sabbath), Woodrow Wilson Fellow in the History of Ideas

"Both impressively scholarly and readily accessible to lay readers. 'This Is Your Brain on Music' segues deftly from a crash course in pitch, timbre, tempo, melody , and other music characteristics to the electrochemical processes of the brain and the elucidation of such topics as 'ear worms,' those insipid jingles and pop songs that get infuriatingly stuck in our heads. A compelling read even for those of us for whom neuroscience remains as baffling as, well, brain surgery."
Boston Globe

"Setting jargon aside in favor of everyday terminology, Levitin gives readers enough background to understand what to listen for in music and to connect what they hear to his science. Readers, with Levitin, leap from the experience of music to the living brain, discovering how responses to music arise from the physical structure and electrochemical activity of that remarkable organ."
Seattle Times

"Dan has struck a chord, a harmony of all cultures, informing all who care about music and the experience we all share. I now more fully understand some of my 'intuitive' moves, and appreciate the way Dan presents the facts, sautéed with a bit of humor. A really good book for anyone who cares about music, poetry and art. This is a book that matters."
Don DeVito, Producer (Bob Dylan, Billy Joel), Vice President, A&R, Columbia Records/Sony/BMG Music


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