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Publisher's Summary

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.
©2012 Jonathan Gottschall (P)2012 Tantor
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Critic Reviews

"Gottschall brings a light touch to knotty psychological matters, and he's a fine storyteller himself." ( Kirkus Reviews)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

By C. Telfair on 10-04-12

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night...

We humans crave narratives. From ancient fire circles to books to radio and movies to TV sets, headphones, and computers, "story is the glue of human social life."

This short listen may not bring to light any really new concepts, but it offers interesting examples of how we use stories for education, entertainment, and reassurance that there is meaning in life. Gottschall also alerts us to reasons why we should be aware that this tendency also opens us up to the possibility of misinterpreting and being manipulated. We long for patterns and reasons - can conspiracy theories be far behind?

I especially enjoyed the discussion about ways in which new technologies are changing how we tell and experience stories -- from so-called "reality" shows to interactive and role-playing computer games.

The narrator is OK, but I wonder why he felt he had to deliver some quotes in quite bizarre accents. The book starts slowly but picks up in energy and interest as it goes along. I think most people interested in books and psychology will enjoy it.



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11 of 11 people found this review helpful


By Diane on 04-14-13

Making Sense of Life Through Stories

If you stop to think about it, stories are the framework around which we build our understanding of reality--whether the stories revolve around history, religion, myth, nationality, science, gaming, drama, fiction or our own lives.

This is Gottschall's premise and he makes his case pretty convincingly. The book does drag in parts and significant sections consist of summaries of materials covered in more depth in other books. However, unlike some other reviewers, I particularly enjoyed the sections on brain science and the role story plays in our dreams, in mental illness and in the development of human culture. In one example, the author contends that at root, the malaise of depression is the loss of our own story and the effectiveness of talk therapy is in helping us to rebuild our own personal narratives. Although the author doesn't take this step, one might argue that whenever a story loses its vitality, whether it is the story of a nation, culture or religion, it is only a matter of time before the demise of that institution inevitably follows.

Not surprisingly perhaps given his premise, the best parts of this book are in the stories. Narration is sub-par particularly when the narrator ineptly (and distractingly) attempts various accents.

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6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

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By Nicholas on 05-17-13

Interesting angle.

This is an interesting book and looks at the human need for stories from a variety of angles which I enjoyed. The reason I dropped an overall star was because at times it feels terribly overwritten. It felt as though the editor told Jonathan Gottschall that each chapter had to be this long. Although having made his point in each chapter, the author noticed he hadn't reached the word count then padded it out. I may be wrong, but it felt that way.
Secondly, I have to mention the reader. Please, whoever directs or produces these books, do not let them do accents unless they are competent. In this case the accents the reader attempts (for no obvious reason aside from the fact that they are referring to English writer etc) are dreadful and totally detract from the importance of what he is reading.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful


By Alek on 02-01-16

Exciting but not extremely practical

The book is full of interesting facts and research, stories and reasons for them to exist. But it is hard to draw something practically useful from the book. This could be because I needed a kind of more practical guide on storytelling but not reasoning about why stories exist and how they evolve.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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