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The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human

by Jonathan Gottschall

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5553331,943 (3.75)10
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.… (more)

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English (32)  Italian (1)  All languages (33)
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
A very pleasant book about the centrality of story to the human experience. I found particularly interesting the discussion of the possible evolutionary benefits of story. Much of the content was not particularly surprising - I think everyone is aware of the unreliability and self-serving nature of memory, and our tendency to make ourselves protagonist is pretty obvious. Also, I read this book after hearing the author interviewed on NPR - and I'm afraid the book didn't add very much to what I heard in the interview. Pleasant read with interesting ideas, but nothing that will blow your mind or make you think about things in a particularly new way. ( )
  ekrst | Jan 24, 2021 |
The author is a father - congratulations! He will not shut up about it. The rest of the book reads like a blog or a dream diary.

Was there a point to this other than making everyone feel good about themselves for spending a 100 hours a week watching TV and playing games? ( )
  TeaTimeCoder | Dec 23, 2020 |
The mass market, highly accessible style works very well to make one dwell on a few very profound points and allow them to sink in...
- that we live in an emotional world, not a rational one
- that we are designed to communicate in story form and that our minds are designed to receive and store information through story
- that our minds do not distinguish between fictional stories and factual ones
- that a certain amount of delusion is, in fact, a sign of psychological health
...but strays in its casual propagandising for Israel and in its glib treatment of conspiracy theories (which deserves a more complex and detailed treatment in the age of whistleblowers and declassified data from the past).

Instead of closing with a reflection on some hypothetical future in which the power of storytelling becomes a curse, he might have done better to emphasise storytelling's present power, the ability of that power to be used for both good and ill, and with the invention of a kind of story hygiene. Such a "story hygiene" might emphasise a kind of mindfulness about what textual, audio and visual stories we produce for others' brains and allow into our own. That way, we would develop personal and collective responsibility for creating and curating the stories we allow in - whether the stories originate externally or internally. Instead of distinguishing between the present and a future in which we excessively escape into virtual worlds, he might have done better to distinguish more thoroughly between collectively ethically positive and collectively ethically negative story habits. One could have brought together all the disparate parts of the book in order to deliver something much more meaningful.

This book is sold as offering "the first unified theory of storytelling." Except it doesn't. There is very little in this ecclectic and fun book that I would describe as either unified or theory. It didn't have to be that way. ( )
  GeorgeHunter | Sep 13, 2020 |
This book argues convincingly that human beings are storytelling animals, as making up and sharing stories is a key part of being human. Very engaging and thought-provoking. ( )
  queen_ypolita | Aug 5, 2020 |
Human beings. We're all wired up for narrative from the way-back times. Gottschall does a great job showing us the various ways in which story pushes, moves, influences, controls us, pulses through the very core of our being. It's a good book. If you like that sort of thing. ( )
  markflanagan | Jul 13, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
This is an excellent resource for students to understand why things are the way they are. It would be a great extension to have students make up their own stories like that ones in this book.
added by courtneyemahr | editCourtney E. Mahr
 
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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.

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