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The Storytelling Animal : How Stories Make Us Human

Walmart # 569500685

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A provocative young scholar gives us the first book on the new science of storytelling: the latest thinking on why we tell stories, what stories reveal about human nature, what makes a story transporting, which plots and themes are universal, and what it means to have a storytelling brain—what are the implications for how we process information and think about the world?

A Editor's Choice
A Los Angeles Times Book Prizes Finalist
“A jaunty, insightful new book . . . [that] draws from disparate corners of history and science to celebrate our compulsion to storify everything around us.”
New York Times

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


HMH Books
Book Format
Original Languages
Number of Pages
Jonathan Gottschall
Publication Date
April, 2013
Assembled Product Dimensions (L x W x H)
8.25 x 5.50 x 0.74 Inches

Customer Reviews

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1-5 of 14 reviews

This proved to be quit...

This proved to be quite a delightful read. The subject material and arguments covered are certainly fascinating, and Gottschall, through his quotes and supporting evidence, is clearly well-read both in this subject and in a more general sense. I did not expect the heavy dependence upon psychology, but it was well-explained and actually provided a great supplement to the psychology course I am currently taking. The evolutionary biology approach to explaining the purpose(s) of storytelling was also particularly fascinating. The one thing about which I could complain, which is actually more of a personal problem than one of the author's, is that there is not a concrete set of knowledge I took away from reading this book. Gottschall explores a variety of ideas about the reasons behind storytelling that stem from a variety of academic disciplines, so the book comes off as more of an eclectic, chapter-by-chapter compilation than a concrete setting-forth of a single man's unified ideas. It's quite fascinating, and Gottschall adds an appropriate amount of humor to keep things moving, but the reader comes away with more general knowledge and less specifics that can be concretely explained. Not by any means unpleasant, but not what I had expected. Also, I had mixed opinions about the images included with the text. Many did add to the material being covered, but I felt that some came off as unprofessional in the general outlay of text and pictures. However, maybe this will be remedied in the final copy of the book. Overall, The Storytelling Animal is a fun but also very informative read. It is perfectly written for a general audience, containing little academic jargon but still perfectly conveying its messages. Even for people not usually interested in the fields covered, the mix of occasional humor, references to well-known things from history and the media, and Gottschall's clear writing make for an interesting read. Disclaimer: I received my copy of this book through GoodRead's First Look program in exchange for an honest review.

Contrary to what might...

Contrary to what might be expected, the author focuses not as much on "artistic" fiction, but rather on the way it it is necessary for human mind to make up a story and live it, from dreams to personal identity. My only complaint is that each topic is given no more than cursory overview, but still, that is enough to get a general picture.

How stories are told h...

How stories are told has changed over time, from a group of hunter-gatherers listening to a storyteller around a fire to online role-playing games, but they're all stories. At the core, they're all about characters adapting and dealing with uncomfortable situations. As an exploration of the innate human need for stories, this book is pretty good. It's a nice, short overview. I see that as one of its strengths. By avoiding the analytical weeds, it presents the basic ideas about human relationship with stories quite clearly.

Delightful book that I...

Delightful book that I put on my list a couple of years ago when I heard about it on NPR, and only now stopped to read. It pairs well with some of the memory research/reading I've done. Gottschall discusses memory later in the book and says Memory isn't an outright fiction; it is merely a fictionalization.With my understanding of memory encoding and extraction, that's about as spot on as one could get. The commonalities of every form of story in our lives may seem generalized, or trivialized, but if you stop to think ... again spot on. No matter how far we travel into literary history, and no matter how deep we plunge into the jungles and badlands of world folklore, we always find the same astonishing thing: their stories are just like ours.And they are. There is something to this. And it's very readable.

onathan Gottschalls b...

onathan Gottschall's book explores the ways in which man is a story-telling creature, why this is so and what telling stories does for us, individually and collectively. Chapters cover everything from sacred creation myths to dreams to the inherent unreliability of memoir to propaganda to television commercials to tweets, video games and conspiracy theories. Gottschall has a light hand and the book is both an entertaining and informative read, although for many of us who work with stories, not a great deal is new and he doesn't go into anything with great depth. This is not to say it's without many wonderful, thoughtful passages and there's a lot of great and thought-provoking information for anyone interested in how stories come to be and how they affect us. I particularly enjoyed the number of quotes and conclusions from other sources the author pulled together. Here's a couple: "The psychologist and novelist Keith Oatley calls stories the flight simulators of human social life." of "As William James once wrote, 'There is very little difference between one man and another; but what little there is, is very important.' The same is true of stories." I suspect I'll be using that one with my writing students. Or: "Tolstoy believed that an artist's job is to 'infect' his audience with his own ideas and emotions--'the stronger the infection, the better is the art as art.' Tolstoy was right--the emotions and ideas in fiction are highly contagious and people tend to overestimate their immunity to them." What a lovely thing for a fiction writer to hear! Snort. I recommend this book to anyone who is engaged in writing, or who is curious about how stories work and how we use them.

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Electrode, Comp-389269098, DC-prod-cdc04, ENV-prod-a, PROF-PROD, VER-30.0.0, SHA-5b22732e63249d37428982287bc451eb2e1aab93, CID-5f2e3f64-632-16ddbc0ea7ff0b, Generated: Thu, 17 Oct 2019 22:05:16 GMT