55 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Power of Storytelling . . . Excellent, Must-Read
First, the short version: Excellent book on the power of story. Fascinating and insightful, a must read if you have any interest at all in the subject matter. One of the best books I have read in a long time . . . fresh, original, and enlightening.
Now the long version: The Storytelling Animal is a fascinating account of the power of story. The author has...
Published 21 months ago by Bradley Bevers
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Left wanting more...
The Storytelling Animal was a fun read, but not the must read I was hoping for. I didn't find anything surprising, or experience any of those WOW moments, when the author brings forth an insight that I had never considered. What I did find interesting was how the author brought all of the different forms of story together. He presents a comprehensive picture of how...
Published 21 months ago by J. Prather
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55 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Power of Storytelling . . . Excellent, Must-Read,
Now the long version: The Storytelling Animal is a fascinating account of the power of story. The author has included many original anecdotes and drawn from hundreds of sources to create a compelling account of how stories make us human.
Each chapter covers a different aspect of this strange phenomenon, from dreams to memoirs to the future of storytelling.
* The Witchery of Story: This chapter is covers the power of story throughout history, geography, and our daily life. The quote that begins the chapter is one of my favorites:
"Lord! When you sell a man a book you don't sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue - you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night - there's all heaven and earth in a book, in a real book I mean." Christopher Morley, Parnassus on Wheels.
* The Riddle of Fiction: Why do we need story? What drives us, what sense does it make? While I did not agree with everything the author concludes here, the theories he presents are insightful. The account he gives of children and the pretend play they engage in is well worth reading, one of my favorite parts of the book.
Hell Is Story-Friendly: Why do we crave stories with trouble in them?
"Stories the world over are almost always about people (or personified animals) with problems. the people want something badly - to survive, to win the girl or the boy, to find a lost child. But big obstacles loom between the protagonists and what they want. Just about any story - comic, tragic, romantic - is about a protagonist's efforts to secure, usually at some cost, what he or she desire." (52)
* Night Story: Our brain does not stop telling stories, even while we are asleep.
* The Mind Is A Storyteller: Great chapter, really like the anecdote about James Tilly Matthews. Have added Illustrations of Madness and The Air Loom Gang to my wish list.
* The Moral Of The Story: The weakest chapter in the book. The author covers religion here and theorizes that humans invented religion as a means of advancing culture and fostering community. Does not really address the chapter title of where morals come from if this is true, why it could not be the other way around (we crave stories because some religion is true), etc.
* Ink People Change The World: Very good chapter - bottom line, fiction is powerful. Fiction can, and does, change more minds and influence more people than non-fiction. Story can break down our defenses and help us to empathize with and accept others (ex. Uncle Tom's Cabin).
* Life Stories: My favorite chapter in the book, worth buying and reading for just this chapter and the next. Memoirs can't be trusted, we fictionalize much of our own memory, and story is a central part of our past.
* The Future of Story:
"These are undeniably nervous times for people who make a living through story. the publishing, film, and television businesses are going through a period of painful change. but the essence of story is not changing. The technology of storytelling has evolved from oral tales, to clay tablets, to hand-lettered manuscripts, to printed books, to movies, televisions, Kindles, and iPhones. The wreaks havoc on business models, but it doesn't fundamentally change story. Fiction is as it was and ever will be: Character + Predicament + Attempted Extrication" (186)
In summary, this is an excellent book and well worth your money. I approach story from a different starting point than the author as a Christian, but there is still much to learn. C.S. Lewis talks about Christianity being more like math than a religion . . . underlying the fabric of our universe. The fact is that story pervades reality and the lives of humans. I'll end with the quote that the author uses to start the book:
"God made Man, because He loves stories." Elie Wiesel, The Gates Of The Forest
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Left wanting more...,
I was familiar with much of the evidence presented in the section of the book dealing with the importance of story in child development. It was an effective presentation, but I was hard pressed to find any new conclusions to draw either from the studies cited or the anecdotal evidence provided.
Perhaps my favorite parts of the book were the ones dealing with our own personal narratives. Our eternal quest to make ourselves the protagonist in our own story, and the unreliability of memory made for interesting reading. Looking at these aspects as merely different forms of storytelling was intriguing and I wanted more information. Unfortunately, not enough was provided.
This was a well written, quick read that will whet the appetite of fiction lovers such as myself, but in the end was kind of insubstantial. I was hoping for something to challenge the common conceptions, and instead experienced a gentle reinforcement of quite a few things I already knew.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book,
"The human mind was shaped for story, so that it could be shaped by story." Gottschall writes, as he subtly tells the reader what he is doing to us, "literally" shaping us with his story and letting us all in on the secrets of all storytelling animals.
The science is fascinating and the topics are well researched. I particularly liked the studies on mirror neurons and how it applied to our love of story.
I wish that I had a book like this in my English classes growing up. A book that made me examine myself as a reader/storytelling animal(something that was long overdue), so that I could better examine what I read.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most intellectually fertile book I've read in years,
This review is from: The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human (Kindle Edition)As both a nonfiction author and a bestselling novelist, I've pondered certain puzzles for decades.
Why do people find certain ideologies and philosophies appealing, but not others? Why do we so often hold to our points of view dogmatically, intractable to all facts, reason, and logic? What is the source of dreams? Why do certain common myths seem to be indelible and universal, across cultures and throughout history? Why does music conjure in us mental imagery? What is the key to the kind of motivational commitment that impels some people to face and triumph over incredible odds and obstacles? Why do we find certain people, at first glance, overpoweringly attractive, and others repulsive? Why do we love some books and movies, and hate others?
These and many other mysteries of the human mind and personality are central to the concerns of the artist, psychologist, historian, or person plying any field of communication or persuasion. But is there anything that links together all of these seemingly disparate things?
In this brilliant and engrossing book, Jonathan Gottschall reveals the central, essential, and seminal role played by STORY -- or "Narrative" -- in human thought, action, and culture. Moving with seemingly effortless creative ease from riveting personal anecdotes to abstract sociological theories, from baffling historical phenomena to intriguing psychological experiments, Gottschall offers a key to understanding much that has baffled man throughout the ages.
For decades, I had believed that philosophical ideas and ideologies reigned supreme in the culture; but over time, events and experience began to collide with that assumption. I first became interested in the extraordinary power of Narratives when reading the works of mythologist Joseph Campbell. Aspiring to write fiction, I became fascinated by how timeless myths found their way into fiction and film; building upon Campbell, "script doctor" Christopher Vogler even uses mythological archetypes to help craft hugely popular movies, and -- in his book The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers -- to school authors in the craft of fiction-writing. Later, while researching a book project about the roots of the modern environmentalist movement, I also came to realize how certain ancient mythic storylines served as the basis for modern ideologies and major religions. (Gottschall demonstrates this latter truth with his sobering account of the career of Adolph Hitler, who was inspired and guided decisively by the heroic operatic dramas of composer Richard Wagner.)
THE STORYTELLING ANIMAL touches upon all of this, and much, much more, drawing the kinds of interdisciplinary and personal connections that most of us would never make in a hundred years. Yet even so, I think Gottschall has barely scratched the surface of the far-flung implications of narratives and stories in our lives. To take just one example, I believe our current president has understood intuitively, and for years, the power of crafting a compelling "personal narrative" in order to launch and propel his political career to wildly improbable success -- and how he relied on crafting a similar "morality play" about himself and his opponents in order to win re-election in 2012. But that is just one of the important implications to be drawn from this extraordinary work.
Let me add that Gottschall is himself a wonderful writer and storyteller. A book that could have been an imposing intellectual chore and bore never flags for a moment in holding the reader and keeping him turning pages. So as not to distract or interrupt his own narrative, he sequesters a formidable array of endnotes and a vast bibliography unobtrusively, after the text.
I love books like this -- books that upend my previous understanding, books that augment my grasp of the world. For all these reasons, I can't recommend THE STORYTELLING ANIMAL strongly enough. A joy to read and ponder, it's the most intellectually fertile nonfiction work I've read in years.
--Robert Bidinotto, author, "HUNTER"
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A little chaotic, but a fascinating read,
Gottschall's spectrum is impressively wide, his comments ranging from religious ties to storytelling to just what is going in the brain during a story. He writes quickly and smartly, making the ideas easy to grasp.
But I also have to say the book is in many ways all over the place. There is little rhyme or reason to the sequence of subjects or even to the material in each chapter. Ideas, admittedly interesting and fascinating, are pretty much dumped into this book.
And yet, I must still recommend this book for those who love to read.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Uneven in Terms of Reading Enjoyment,
For me the book confirms what I have long suspected: all of us live much of our lives in the land of fantasy but we seldom talk about it, probably believing that others will think one is crazy to admit that truth. But I readily admit it. I go to sleep telling stories. When I walk I tell stories. We all tell stories when we are engaged in sex. And don't deny it!
The opening chapter, "The Witchery of Story" is a great way to get started into this book. That may sound like a rather obvious thing to write, but in this case it is especially true. We don't want to live the lives of those who inhabit the pages of stories do we? But fiction would not sell if it told of our ordinary lives. Right? The author sets this up well.
I think "The Riddle of Fiction," the second chapter is excellent with one very important exception. The author makes an assumption which apparently Vivian Paley, the author of "Boys and Girls" also made in her so-called research: that all boys gravitate toward play that involves guns and the like whereas all girls gravitate toward dolls, etc. That is just so not so! And I, as a gay man, ought to know. Maybe he meant to say--but he didn't--that a majority do. But I sought any opportunities I could to play with my sister's dolls, leaving my toy guns to gather dust. And I know of many lesbians who had little use for dolls but a lot of use for the activities straight boys were involved in. Today one would think an author would take this into consideration. Dr. Paley's research is old. But quite clearly the author is writing only from a heterosexual's point of view. So off went one star because of that! So there!
I teach writing and literature. So I found "The Mind Is a Storyteller," the fourth chapter, really fascinating, that a majority of authors are probably bipolar. That must be why my writing isn't as good as I would want it to be. I am no bipolar. But when I read the chapter, I put the pieces together along with the drug addiction and alcoholism we associate with so many of these writers: Capote, Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Faulkner, Coleridge, Virginia Wolfe... A seemingly endless list. This sentence fascinates me: "Even college students who sign up for poetry-writing seminars have more bipolar traits than college students generally." There is no footnote for one to use to go to the author's souce, another flaw in the book in my opinion. And this: "People who are mentally ill tend to ahve more artists in their families...." Again no attribution to this statement although there is an extensive bibliography at the end.
I really enjoyed the last chapters: "The Moral of the Story," "Ink People Change the World," "Life Stories" and "The Future of Story." Indeed we do experience a lot of story telling today by a lot more people. That alone is fascinating given how our reading population is significantly less per capita than in the past. But not our media savy population who seek out all types of stories.
Chapter 6, "The Moral of the Story" isn't want you might expect, not about Aesop-type stories but instead about religions and their stories. Let me give you an example (page 119): "Guided by the holy myths, believers must imaginatively construct an alternate reality that stretches from the origins straight through an entire shadow world that teems with evidence of divinity. They must be able to decode the cryptic messages in the stars, the whistle of the wind, the entrails of goats, and the riddles of the prophets... Religion is the ultimate expression of story's dominion over our minds. The heros of sacred fiction do not respect the barrier between the pretend and the real." Then this two pages later: "We have religion because, by nature, we abhor explanatory vacuums. In sacred fiction, we find the master confabulations of the storytelling mind." Amen to that! And, of course, as the author then writes, the same is true of national myths. Just think about all the fictions of American history, the George Washington chopping down the cherry tree and not lying types of fictions. And then all of the virtues rewarded types of stories we have created. Humans just love to tell stories, often making claims about them being factual, all directed toward improving human behavior. But what is lacking in this chapter is how so many of these fictions have been the roots of wars.
Yes, I am convinced that I am right: much of our day and night is consumed in the stories we play out in our heads. Too bad we don't admit it and enjoy telling those tales, including the ones about the neighbor we would just love to see run down by a monster truck! And don't tell me all of us don't create those types of stories. All the time.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Power of Stories,
I was looking for something else when I came across this book. Immediately I was intrigued: because I have also written a book about the power of stories. I teach mythology, and am fascinated by how mythic themes recur in our own lives. We use ideas from stories we have heard to develop our own 'life script'. My book 'LifeWorks' was published earlier this year - I was so excited! I've just been asked to write another article... There, I've told you my story. You see how powerful stories are.
I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in stories. And that means everyone: because telling stories is what makes us human.
Jane Bailey Bain ('LifeWorks: Using myth & archetype to develop your life story')
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Stories Matter,
Stores are central to our life is the book's premise. How are stories useful, why do they matter? And what is the future of stories? This fascinating book explores these questions.
Stories are so ubiquitous, we don't notice them, suggests author and English professor, Jonathan Gottschall, who is an effective storyteller himself.
Where are the stories? Hidden in plain sight. Worry (horror stories), daydreams (fantasy stories) the 10,000 favorite songs on our iPod are stories, gossip and jokes at the water cooler, commercials and jingles, sermons at church usually involve a story. Religions are based on a tradition of stories. Therapists are "script doctors" says Gottschall, who help us revise our life stories so we can become protagonists again.
Our work often involves crafting a compelling story whether we're a teacher, lawyer, salesperson or CEO. The 1900 hours of TV we watch each year are stories. Our mind is so addicted to stories, writes Gottschall, it stays up all night telling itself stories in the form of night dreams.
But why? "If evolution is ruthlessly utilitarian, why is there the seeming luxury of fiction?" asks Gottschall. Do stories help us rehearse for life? Why are stories fixated on trouble? What do stories do for us?
This is a question we tussled with in my writing classes at NYU with Adam Sexton who wrote Master Class in Fiction Writing: Techniques from Austen, Hemingway, and Other Greats. Adam continually stressed that stories need a central conflict that is personal, concrete and specific to be page-turners for us. But why do we like/need a central conflict or trouble to be compelling?
While stories involving trouble provide diverse functions which are examined in this book, there may be a current which runs deep in our thirst for storytelling.
If you look at the top ten best-selling books of 2011, perhaps there are clues as to what kind of stories we love most and why. The highest rung on Maslow's ladder of human needs and desires, above self-actualization, was transcendence he said later in his life. Do we humans intuit that powers exist to transcend the merely mechanical and material, cause and effect solutions to problems in our seeming matter-based existence? We like dwelling in possibility. And stories which speak of possibility and the magical power of imagination, creativity, innovation, humor, wonder, beauty, and vision to overcome challenges encourage us that we can use these to improve our lives and the world.
#1 2011 best-selling book: STEVE JOBS. Jobs was the ultimate wizard of our age who used the magical power of design and technology to "distort reality" and create mind-bending products for us. Products that we couldn't imagine until he did for us. This book linked the magic of design and innovation to our every day reality.
#2 best-selling book: BOSSYPANTS by Tina Fey. Humor is a special kind of power which catapulted Fey's career. Think how humor has transcendent power--the right quip at the right time can win an election to the highest post of power in the world, which Reagan proved. Humor is sunshine to gray and grim days.
Other top ten best-sellers from last year include fantasy books such as A DANCE WITH DRAGONS by George Martin and INHERITANCE by Christopher Paolini. Fantasy is all about power, and the archetypal struggle of good with limited human resources over evil with an arsenal of malevolent power tools at its disposal. The success of Harry Potter attests to this allure.
Stories which involve transcendence speak to our hope that we're more than mortal beings limited by genetics, history, environment and the constraints of available resources to solve our problems. Stories of transcendence invigorate us and propel us to craft a life based on a sense of possibility and waiting potential. This marvelous book will awaken you to the power of story in your life.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Pleasant Story about Stories,
Given his insistence that stories are an integral part of human existence, it is fitting that Gottschall writes with a conversational, story-telling voice. His use of examples from history, pop culture, and his own family life provides a rich set of anecdotal evidence for his claims. He also draws on a few scientific studies and analyses to emphasize his points, but not to the extent that it detracts from the casually entertaining tone of the book.
I think The Storytelling Animal is a terrifically fun book to read, and it should be easily understandable to people from all walks of life. His use of modern examples (World of Warcraft, Harry Potter, CSI) will likely appeal especially to readers immersed in popular culture, who might find other similar books less accessible. Those looking for a more in depth or scholarly analysis of the topic might do well to try Zunshine's Why We Read Fiction or The Literary Animal by Wilson and Crews, although those deal primarily with the written word. Otherwise, anyone looking for a pleasurable reading experience with even the slightest bit of interest in this area should give this book a try.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging book, but acts as an introduction to the topic,
Neverland never leaves us
The book begins by setting up the stage for this fascinating topic. It starts guiding us through various ideas (and even a test) to prove how bewitching stories can be. Gottschall uses the idea of Neverland throughout the book and it is mentioned in the first chapter. He starts by noting that children love spending time creating stories and enacting them. Then, he writes, "We may leave the nursery, with its toy trucks and dress-up clothes, but we never stop pretending. We just change how we do it. Novels, dreams, films, and fantasies are provinces of Neverland." He points out that humans never stop their involvement with stories. This seems quite true since there are many executives and producers that use story to move their customers and audiences. From the old ages where storytelling was mainly word-of-mouth to now where storytelling takes form in TV, movies, and even video games, stories have attracted us and I think they always will.
Why does Neverland never leave us?
The true question is why story has not been eliminated from human life through evolution. Basically, there has to be some sort of purpose for story. Otherwise, it would not have pursued to stay with us for so long. Some people think that fiction is used for a lot of things, like exercising the mind, passing down experiences, or forming a social glue among people. However, what if the alternative is considered? In my opinion, Gotschall introduces one of the most interesting theories here. Perhaps fiction is for nothing at all. It serves no purpose. At first, I thought this was a very poor argument to make. After all, story is all around us. If it was for nothing, wouldn't it have been eliminated through evolution, like mentioned before? Then, he makes his case, "Story may educate us, deepen us, and give us joy. Story may be one of the things that makes its most worthwhile to be human. But that doesn't mean story has a biological purpose." Although it seemed hard to believe (and I didn't want to think all my hours reading books were wasteful), it opened my mind. Maybe stories are for the sole purpose of enjoyment. We do many things that we have no value or need for, so maybe story is one of them.
Not just empathy, but sympathy
Humans cannot have stories if there is no conflict. If there is a story with no problems or interesting scenarios, the story is not at all engaging. The story does not elicit a response. Here, Gottschall finally started to bring in some science. As a current student in an introductory neuroscience class, I had been waiting for a neurological and scientific inquiry into why stories charm and move us. In one case, scientists used fMRI machines to monitor audience reaction. While watching the movie The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, it was discovered that "When Eastwood was angry, the viewer's brains looked angry, too. When the scene was sad, the viewers' brains also looked sad." With brain scanning, scientists were able to see that mirror neurons started firing in the brain. This caused the audience to have real, strong emotional responses that coincided with the story being told. They would not just empathize with the characters, but sympathize with them. However, this exploration into mirror neurons was short. There is not much more that Gottschall included, not that there needed to be any more with the point he was making. Still, I would have liked a little more meat, a little more scientific background into this topic. Also, there are some cases where audiences react more strongly to one scenario than another. It would have been great to learn the reasoning behind this. After all, not all movies elicit brilliant responses and become box office hits.
It is really strange to think about dreams, how they occur, why they occur, what causes one dream compared to another, etc. Gottschall explains some well known theories, such as one from Freud and the random activation theory (RAT). Jouvet's cats were intriguing to read about (again, my bias towards neuroscience coming into play). Jouvet severed the connection in the brain stem that signaled for paralysis in sleep in a few cats. During sleep, the cats would experience many scenarios of capturing prey or avoiding predators. Apparently, the dream world is filled with trouble. Again, there seems to be no story without conflict and since dreams are riddled with stories, they are riddled with conflict. Now that I think back to my own dreams (or those that I remember), it seems like they are all filled with trouble, sadness, or some sort of mission to resolve a dilemma. Perhaps dreams act as simulators then, preparing us for problems in the real world. This is something to think about.
To clean the chicken coop, of course!
The mind likes to invent stories, even if they are not real. An experiment conducted by Gazzaniga with split brain patients truly entertained me. Because of the way the visual system works, many split-brain patients were able to process images presented to both their left and right visual fields. One patient was shown a chicken's foot to the left and a snowy scene to the right. He was told to pick up two cards with pictures on them with both hands. He chose a chicken card with his right hand and a shovel card with his left hand. When asked why, he said he chose the chicken card because he saw a picture of a chicken's foot. However, he said he chose the shovel card not because he had seen the snowy scene, but because a chicken coop can be cleaned out with a shovel. It seems as if the initial images had been processed correctly in the brain and his hands chose the correct cards. However, the reasoning for one of the cards was a subtle lie. The brain didn't understand why the left hand had chosen a shovel due to the severed connection between the two halves of the brain. So, it made a reason up, to clean the chicken coop. This result was seen with other images and tests with different patients as well. It seems like the brain needs to create links. If it does not know the truth or reason behind something, it will create one. The brain will create stories naturally. This idea is quite scary... yet wondrous at the same time.
How fiction influences reality
I really liked reading the chapter on how "Ink People Change the World". It was interesting to learn of Adolf Hitler's fascination with Wagner's compositions and how they may have influenced his life of conquest. Although this chapter is more about speculation and theories that cannot be proven, I liked reading it since I do believe some stories compel and move people enough to make changes in reality. Gottschall says, "... when we are absorbing in a story, we drop our intellectual guard. We are moved emotionally, and this seems to leave us defenseless." Scientific explanations and research were not mentioned in abundance here. Yet, the idea that fiction can change real life doesn't seem difficult to believe after learning about how strongly we relate to it, feel it.
Style, Structure, and Overall Review
The book starts off at a great pace, building excitement for the coming chapters. It sets up the stage for this mysterious thing only humans seem to do: storytelling. Of course, the book is made more interesting by the way the author writes. His personality is clearly woven into the writing as he tries to interact with his readers through tests and relate to them through his personal recollections. I could do without some unnecessary pictures. At times, the images did not even have captions or explanations in the main text of the book. Still, Gottschall relays information well and the experiments mentioned were complimentary to the theories discussed. I do think the subject is too broad to be captured in this number of pages and at times, I needed to clarify which idea was proving what. Perhaps if the number of topics were reduced and more thorough investigating was done, I would personally be more satisfied with the organization and explanation of the material. Moreover, I wanted a more neurological background to our storytelling nature. I wanted to understand what exactly in our mind clicks and turns with story. I believe addressing this would give the book more substance, but it works as a great introduction to the material without it. In summary, this book gave a brief yet enjoyable introduction to our fascination with story. The author does try to research various materials, as shown in the long bibliography at the end. So, I would definitely recommend this book to a friend or anyone interested in taking a dip in the subject.
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The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall (Paperback - April 23, 2013)