The Storytelling Animal
The Storytelling Animal
How Stories Make Us Human
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover, 9780547391403, 272pp.
Publication Date: April 10, 2012
Humans live in landscapes of make-believe. We spin fantasies. We devour novels, films, and plays. Even sporting events and criminal trials unfold as narratives. Yet the world of story has long remained an undiscovered and unmapped country. It's easy to say that humans are wired for story, but "why"?
In this delightful and original book, Jonathan Gottschall offers the first unified theory of storytelling. He argues that stories help us navigate life's complex social problems just as flight simulators prepare pilots for difficult situations. Storytelling has evolved, like other behaviors, to ensure our survival.
Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, and evolutionary biology, Gottschall tells us what it means to be a storytelling animal. Did you know that the more absorbed you are in a story, the more it changes your behavior? That all children act out the same kinds of stories, whether they grow up in a slum or a suburb? That people who read more fiction are more empathetic?
Of course, our story instinct has a darker side. It makes us vulnerable to conspiracy theories, advertisements, and narratives about ourselves that are more truthy than true. National myths can also be terribly dangerous: Hitler's ambitions were partly fueled by a story.
But as Gottschall shows in this remarkable book, stories can also change the world for the better. Most successful stories are moral they teach us how to live, whether explicitly or implicitly, and bind us together around common values. We know we are master shapers of story. "The Storytelling Animal" finally reveals how stories shape "us.
Jonathan Gottschall teaches English at Washington & Jefferson College and is one of the leading figures in the movement toward a more scientific humanities. The author or editor of five scholarly books, Gottschall’s work has been prominently featured in The New York Times Magazine, Scientific American, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, among others. Steven Pinker has called him "a brilliant young scholar" whose writing is "unfailingly clear, witty, and exciting."
"A lively pop-science overview of the reasons why we tell stories and why storytelling will endure..[Gottschall's] snapshots of the worlds of psychology, sleep research and virtual reality are larded with sharp anecdotes and jargon-free summaries of current research... Gottschall brings a light tough to knotty psychological matters, and he’s a fine storyteller himself."
—Sam Kean, author of The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements "Story is not the icing, it’s the cake! Gottschall eloquently tells you ‘how come’ in his well researched new book."
—Peter Guber, CEO, Mandalay Entertainment and author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Tell To Win "This is a quite wonderful book. It grips the reader with both stories and stories about the telling of stories, then pulls it all together to explain why storytelling is a fundamental human instinct."
— Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor and Honorary Curator in Entomology, Harvard University "Stories are everywhere. Stories make us buy; they make us cry; they help us pass the time, even when we're asleep. In this enthralling book, Jonathan Gottschall traces the enduring power of stories back to the evolved habits of mind. He reveals the ways in which we are trapped, for better or worse, in a world of narrative. If you are in the storytelling business — and aren't we all? — you must read this book." —Jonah Lehrer "The Storytelling Animal is a delight to read. It's boundlessly interesting, filled with great observations and clever insights about television, books, movies, videogames, dreams, children, madness, evolution, morality, love, and more. And it's beautifully written—fittingly enough, Gottschall is himself a skilled storyteller."
—Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology at Yale and author of How Pleasure Works "Like the magnificent storytellers past and present who furnish him here with examples and inspiration, Jonathan Gottschall takes a timely and fascinating but possibly forbidding subject — the new brain science and what it can tell us about the human story-making impulse — and makes of it an extraordinary and absorbing intellectual narrative. The scrupulous synthesis of art and science here is masterful; the real-world stakes high; the rewards for the reader numerous, exhilarating, mind-expanding."
—Terry Castle, Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities, Stanford University