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The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human Paperback – April 23, 2013
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"[An] insightful yet breezily accessible exploration of the power of storytelling and its ability to shape our lives...[that is] packed with anecdotes and entertaining examples from pop culture." The Boston Globe
"The Storytelling Animal is informative, but also a lot of fun.... Anyone who has wondered why stories affect us the way they do will find a new appreciation of our collective desire to be spellbound in this fascinating book." BookPage
"Stories are the things that make us human, and this book's absorbing, accessible blend of science and story shows us exactly why." Minneapolis Star Tribune.
"This is a work of popular philosophy and social theory written by an obviously brilliant undergraduate teacher. The gift for the example is everywhere. A punchy line appears on almost every page." The San Francisco Chronicle
From the Back Cover
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. Now 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 and explains how stories can change the world for the better. We know we are master shapers of story. The Storytelling Animal finally reveals how stories shape us.
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
Charms with anecdotes and examples . . . we have not left nor should we ever leave Neverland. Cleveland Plain Dealer
- Publisher : Mariner Books; 1st edition (April 23, 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 272 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0544002342
- ISBN-13 : 978-0544002340
- Item Weight : 8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.74 x 8.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #66,215 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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“In recent decades, roughly corresponding with the rise of TV, psychology has begun a serious study of story’s effects on the human mind… fiction does mold our minds. Story—whether delivered through films, books, or video games—teaches us facts about the world; influences our moral logic; and marks us with fears, hopes, and anxieties that alter our behavior, perhaps even our personalities. Research shows that story is constantly nibbling and kneading us, shaping our minds without our knowledge or consent” (p. 148); and “Humans are creatures of Neverland. Neverland is our evolutionary niche, our special habitat” (p. 177).
But, while recognizing some dangers, the book is too optimistic on the impacts of storytelling on humanity. Thus, the book does not confront the negative effects of amusement industry, advertisement fables and political marketing stories. Its most serious error assumes morality-enhancing effects of stories, as if there exists an universal and timeless human morality reinforced by them.
The author mentions violence caused by conflicting religious beliefs, but then forgets all about it when making statements claiming that “as with sacred myths, ordinary stories—from TV shows to fairy tales—steep us all in the same powerful norms and values” (p. 134). Thus the book ignores the pluralism of values which contradict each other. If the author had taken into account Nazi stories and movies he would not make a grievous error: ignoring a fundamental feature of humanity, namely self-righteous highly moral persons and collectives clinging fanatically to different stories producing a sense of moral duty to kill non-believers, inferior races, exploiters and so on – making history into what Hegel called a “slaughterhouse” and quite likely. when driven with fitting stories and equipped with increasingly effective tools of mass killing, endangering the future of the human species..
Related is the author’s statement “that fiction, by constantly marinating our brains in the theme of poetic justice, may be partly responsible for the overly optimistic sense that the world is, on the whole, a just place. And yet the fact that we take this lesson to heart may be an important part of what makes human societies work (p. 135).
True, the human species continues to exist, though its future is not assured. And most humans are at present materially better off than ever before. But the masses of India, Africa, large parts of South America and more hardly think that global society works well; and lack of coping with climate change throws even more doubts on the “working” of human society as a whole. Therefore, much of the story telling giving a good feeling to parts of humanity may be a toxic tranquillizer.
Thus, besides its many merits, the book suffers from what I call the “Better Angels Mirage.” A more critical stance on the impacts of stories would have made this book even better.
Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Beyond all that heady stuff, Gottschall's work is meticulously researched, yet he delivers it with a breezy, anecdote-riddled style. Love it. GREAT book!
The first few chapters look at children's play, fiction, and dreams, and conclude that an essential function of story is to prepare us for life's inevitable difficulties by running us through thousands upon thousands of trouble-based scenarios.
The next few chapters reveal story's centrality in daily life as meta-social narrative; as personal identity narrative; and, as moral compass; and, Gottschall demonstrates how fictions worm deep inside our minds, parasite-like, and exert a vast influence on our daily behavior. Hitler, for example, is shown to have been profoundly guided by Wagner's opera "Rienzi."
The book concludes by considering story's future, showing how fiction is encroaching more and more upon the territory of reality, and how we may soon be saturated in virtual worlds of illusion (more than we already are, if this is possible).
I recommend the book wholeheartedly to anyone interested in story; however, it left me wanting depth and comprehensiveness. It feels more like a series of charming magazine articles than a coherent work attempting to deeply master and illuminate its subject.
The book nicely conforms to the mold of popular contemporary non-fiction: fast-paced and peppered with anecdotes and soft social science research; provocative, but it doesn't make you think too hard (this can be a good thing, depending on what you're looking for).
There was room here, with a little more patience and a little less attention to commercialism, for a stellar, substantial book. The Storytelling Animal fails to provide definitive statements or true revelations, but it never fails to provoke and entertain.
I started with the audio book then also bought the ebook so I could go through it again to retain the insights. I will be coming back to reference it, and have already done so.
That said, I am only giving it 4 stars instead of 5 because wanted to love the actual reading of it more than I did. I found it took me longer to get through than some nonfiction books that I cannot put down. It is hard to say why exactly, but one reason I think might have to do with the way Gottschall uses story techniques to lead the reader down a path and then takes an unexpected turn. In doing so, he is effective at making a point. Still, as a reader, we trust the author and if he takes us somewhere we did not want to go or if we feel tricked, some of the love is lost. In fairness, the fact that story can so easily manipulate people is one of the major themes of the book, and he acknowledges and apologizes for doing it. I hesitate to be critical in any way because it was thoroughly researched, solidly written and fascinating.
Top reviews from other countries
For aspiring writers, this is your new Tao Te Ching. For Psychology types, it is no less interesting to see how human beings make sense of reality by believing in the fictional. And for everyone else, it's still an amazing exploration through society, the brain, history, and our own imagination.
And excellent insights in how the human mind works, and what stories mean to us. A lot.
Read this, highly recommended.