Title: This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession
Author: Daniel Levitin
Genre: Non-Fiction, Popular Science
Where I Got It: Bought it
Score: 6! out of 5
WARNING: Gratuitous use of ALL CAPS and cursing, lots of cursing. Sorry, I try not to curse on this blog too much, but when I get really excitable I drop the F-Bomb. A LOT. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
I don’t read non-fiction books very often. Or rather, I don’t voluntarily read non-fiction books that are required for my graduate classes very often. I used to in high school and early in my college career, but when you’re in graduate school and most of what you read is heavy-theory, or historical criticism, or some such thing, you really just want to read fun popular fiction on your off-time. And that’s mostly what I do. I read fantasy, scifi, YA, and so forth. But I’ve been meaning to get back into reading science books (reminder: I used to be a Physics major and I MISS my science classes), and I’ve actually had this book sitting on a shelf for three years now, so I figured I’d finally get around to reading it.
I bought it way back then because a) it was a science book and I’m always like: Yay, science! and b) because it was about music, and my life RUNS on music. Seriously. So, I was pretty certain I was going to love this book once I got around to it.
But OH. MY. GOD. I cannot tell you how awesome this book is! It BLEW MY MIND!
Okay, okay, before I devolve totally into gratuitous cap letters, here’s what This Is Your Brain On Music is about: Daniel Levitin started out as a member of a mediocre rock band. But when he was in the studio recording with his band, he discovered he was actually a very good music engineer/producer, and eventually that’s what he became. And he worked with some VERY BIG names in the business, including (just as an example): The Who. Yeah. THE FUCKING WHO. (Can I have this man’s life?) Well, eventually, Daniel Levitin got more and more interested in exactly how the brain processes music, where music comes from, why it’s so universally important, etc. And he went back to college and GOT A PHD IN NEUROSCIENCE with a specialization in music cognition. Because apparently he is just that fucking awesome. He then went on to work with some VERY BIG NAMES in neuroscience, including, just for the sake of name dropping: OLIVER SACKS. (If you’re into science, you’ll realize how BIG that name is – and OMG can I please have this man’s life?) AND THEN he started his own fucking lab to study music and the brain.
And after all that was done, HE WROTE A FUCKING BOOK ABOUT IT ALL. And voila. Here we are.
Of course, it’s difficult to give reviews of non-fiction books. There are no plots and not often many characters, exactly. This book goes through the basic units of what turns sound into music. It talks about how the brain processes and understands music, why we couldn’t have music without the memory systems are brains are built with, why we get earworms – those songs that stick in your head forever, how music may have evolved from our caveman days, why it takes aprox. 10,000 hours of practice to become an “expert” at anything, and why there might not be any such thing as “natural talent” after… just to name a few topics. He covers neurobiology, neuropsychology, cognitive psychology, empirical philosophy, Gestalt psychology, memory theory, categorization theory, neurochemistry, and exemplar theory in relation to music theory and history. All in about 300 pages.
And he does all of this with great metaphors to explain the more complicated and less intuitive science concepts, plenty of examples for real music that most people should recognize, a wonderfully light, humorous writing style, and an enormous love and respect for music that shines through every single word.
I cannot express how much I LOVE this book. I have been raving about it to anyone who listen. Most of my friends. My mother. My brother. I have told practically everyone I know that THEY NEED TO READ THIS BOOK. And I’m telling you all now too. YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK. If you like science. If you like music. If you just like GOOD non-fiction. YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK.
IT WILL BLOW YOUR FUCKING MIND.
You will probably come out the other side wanting to be a neuroscientist. Or a musician. Or both. If you ever played an instrument and let it fall by the wayside, I guarantee you this book will make you at least WANT to start practicing again. It might actually get you ACTUALLY PRACTICING AGAIN. You will have a new appreciation for not only the amount of work it takes to play music, but also the kind of brain power and evolutionary luck it takes JUST TO LISTEN TO MUSIC. You will be amazed by how many different parts of the brain have to be in operating condition just to understand what you’re listening to. And HOW AMAZING IT IS THAT WE CAN REMEMBER ALMOST EVERY SONG WE HERE MORE THAN ONCE. Apparently babies ACTUALLY REMEMBER THE SONGS THEY HEAR IN THE WOMB!!!! FUCK YEAH!
BUY THIS BOOK. Go to Amazon right now. Here. Here’s the link: This Is Your Brain On Music.
AND ENJOY THE MIND-BLOWING EXPERIENCE.
Come see me when you’re done and just try to tell me it wasn’t worth every fucking penny. I DARE YOU.