The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human

Front Cover
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Apr 10, 2012 - Psychology - 271 pages
“Insightful...draws from disparate corners of history and science to celebrate our compulsion to storify everything around us.”—The New York Times Book Review
 
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 remained an undiscovered and unmapped country. It’s easy to say that humans are “wired” for story, but why?

In this delightful, 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, stories can also powerfully change the world for the better. We know we are master shapers of story. The Storytelling Animal finally reveals how stories shape us.
 
“Lively.”—San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Absorbing.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
 
“One of my favorite evolutionary psych writers—always insightful and witty.”—Steven Pinker

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - dmturner - LibraryThing

A very readable gloss on the human need for story. I particularly liked the chapter about dreams. The author makes some nice points, but I disagree with the idea that fiction serves primarily a moral purpose. Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Cheryl.Russell - LibraryThing

I'm having trouble deciding what this book is actually about. It covers a lot of ground, and I think that is one of the problems I'm having with it. Even though the book is listed at 248 pages, only ... Read full review

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About the author (2012)

Jonathan Gottschall teaches English at Washington & Jefferson College and is one of the leading figures in the movement toward a more scientific humanities. The author or editor of five scholarly books, Gottschall’s work has been prominently featured in the New York Times Magazine, Scientific American, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, among others. Steven Pinker has called him "a brilliant young scholar" whose writing is "unfailingly clear, witty, and exciting."

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