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The Big Read: Humanity

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A photograph of human hands on a piano."4. Technology won't save humankind. Humans will."

- The Humans, p. 271

Music and poetry come up often in The Humans. Did you get any of the references, or if not, did you look any of them up? If so, you can find out more about them here.



"Listening to music, I realised, was simply the pleasure of counting without realising you were counting."

-The Humans, p. 99

Music plays an important part of Andrew Martin's experiences in The Humans. For example, we witness what it is to hear music for the first time. Matt Haig mentions many different artists, albums, and songs in this book. You can learn more about each of these, and even listen to them by clicking on the images below.

'Clair de Lune' by Claude-Achille Debussy.Tom WaitsCover of 'Explores Your Mind' by Al GreenCover of 'Speaking in Tongues' by The Talking HeadsPrinceCover of 'Random Access Memories' by Daft PunkCover of 'Beggars Banquet' by the Rolling StonesCover of 'Pet Sounds' by The Beach Boys.Cover of 'Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band' by the Beatles.Photograph of Johannes Brahms.Portrait of Ludvig van Beethoven.Cover of 'Rhapsody in Blue' by George Gershwin.Cover of 'Blue Monk' by Thelonius Monk.Cover of 'Moon Safari' by Air.Cover of the motion picture soundtrack of 'The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly' by Ennio Morricone.Cover of 'The Planets' by Gustav HolstCover of 'More Monsters and Sprites' by SkrillexCover of 'A Love Supreme' by John ColtraneCover of 'Space Oddity' by David BowiePortrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

"34. David Bowie's 'Space Oddity' tells you nothing about space, but its musical patterns are very pleasing to the ears."

- The Humans, p. 273


"19. Read poetry. Especially poetry by Emily Dickinson. It might save you. Anne Sexton knows the mind, Walt Whitman knows grass, but Emily Dickinson knows everything."

- The Humans, p. 272

A photograph of Anne Sexton.Anne Sexton

Born in 1928 Sexton began writing poetry as a form of creative therapy. Alongside her experiences of mental illness, Sexton's work focussed on the different relationships in her life, for example, her relationship with her mother, daughters, husband, and an at times troubled relationship with God. Sexton's work also explored life and death in a very personal way, for example  in poems like Live, "I say Live, Live because of the sun / the dream, the excitable gift." and Suicide Note "So I will go now, / wildly but accurately, / knowing my best route." In 1967 Sexton was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her book of poetry Live or Die. She died in 1974, shortly before her final book The Awful Rowing Toward God was due to be published.

A photograph of Walt Whitman. Walt Whitman

During the mid-nineteenth century Walt Whitman worked as a printer, proofreader, newspaper editor, and civil servant, while also writing and publishing poetry. In 1855 Whitman self-published his book of poems Leaves of Grass, which he revised and added to over the next 37 years. The final edition of Leaves of Grass was published in 1892 and is known as the 'deathbed edition.' Whitman wrote frankly about sexuality, his poems covering themes such as homosexuality and prostitution.

An edition of Drum Taps by Whitman featuring a series of poems celebrating the soldiers of the American Civil War, is currently housed in the Edinburgh Napier University War Poets Collection. Whitman's work is now in the public domain, and you can read online at Project Gutenberg, or listen online to at Librivox

A photograph of Emily Dickinson.Emily Dickinson

Born in 1830 Emily Dickinson is an American poet who only received attention and acclaim for her work after her death in 1886. Her poems were unconventional in style for the period, and featured nature, death, and spirituality as major themes, often together; "Apparently with no surprise / To any happy flower, / The frost beheads it at its play / In accidental power." Dickinson was a prolific writer, and wrote numerous letters to friends and acquaintances. Shortly after her death, a cache of her poems, numbering nearly 1,800, was discovered in her home.

Dickinson's work is now in public domain, and you can read online at Project Gutenberg, or listen online at LibriVox

A photograph of Charles Bukowski and a young woman.Charles Bukowski

Born in Germany in 1920, Charles Bukowski emmigrated to America with his mother and father at the age of three. He began writing in the early 1940s and worked in a variety of jobs to support himself at the time; as a dishwasher, truck driver, postman, security guard, warehouse worker, shipping clerk, factory worker, Red Cross orderly, and even as an elevator operator. Bukowski's poems and novels feature urbanisation, sexuality, violence, and the American underdog as central themes; "he was the world's greatest loser /  but he never gave up." Much of his work was autobiographical, dealing with his own alcoholism and the absurdity of life, for example; "let's go, I say. /  we get into my car / all of us drunk, and /  somebody in back says, /  we've been reading your poetry a long time, /  Bukowski, and I say,  /  I've been writing it a long time," Bukowski died of Lukemia in 1994.

You can find out more about Charles Bukowski, and read some of his works by visiting his Author Page at the Proquests Literature Online database.

Throughout The Humans, Matt Haig has included quotes from various mathematicians, philosophers, poets, musicians, and playwrights. You can read more works by these authors below.

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