The Storytelling Animal
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.

The Storytelling Animal Details

TitleThe Storytelling Animal
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseApr 10th, 2012
PublisherHoughton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN-139780547391403
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Psychology, Language, Writing, Science, Philosophy, Books About Books, Sociology, Business, History, Anthropology

The Storytelling Animal Review

  • Glenn Russell
    January 1, 1970
    Everybody loves a good story. But what about your own story? Years ago someone told me of their experience in a bar. Thus, my micro-fiction: ALL IN THE TELLINGI’m feeling lonely, depressed, really down in the dog. I trudge to the closest bar and, after a couple of beers, proceed to tell the guy sitting on the next bar stool my life story. It isn’t pretty, but at least it’s mine. When I’m all talked out, I toss a couple of bucks on the counter in disgust and hit the men’s room. But the time I’m b Everybody loves a good story. But what about your own story? Years ago someone told me of their experience in a bar. Thus, my micro-fiction: ALL IN THE TELLINGI’m feeling lonely, depressed, really down in the dog. I trudge to the closest bar and, after a couple of beers, proceed to tell the guy sitting on the next bar stool my life story. It isn’t pretty, but at least it’s mine. When I’m all talked out, I toss a couple of bucks on the counter in disgust and hit the men’s room. But the time I’m back he is retelling my story to the guy next to him. I slide into a nearby booth so I can listen to his version without being seen. He has most of the facts straight, and the way he tells the story makes it sound really interesting.When he’s done, the listener, in turn, begins telling my story to the guy next to him. Not bad. He also has the facts straight and his version is even more interesting than the first. When he’s done, I can guess what’s coming and I’m not disappointed. Only this next guy telling my story isn’t just good, he’s a born storyteller. The way he embellishes my life with such pathos and humor, you would think I’m a real dashing, daredevil cavalier.I want to hear the next version firsthand so I move alongside the listener. The storyteller finishes, pats him on the back and they both have a good hearty laugh. But when the storyteller leaves, my guy just sits there nursing his beer. I try to egg him on: “I only heard the very end but, wow, that was some story.” He doesn’t answer. After a few moments he sighs and tells me such a flat, lackluster, boring rendition, you would think he knows me better than I know myself.
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  • Lisa
    January 1, 1970
    In the beginning, there was a word, and the word was Storyteller. She was very lonely. There was nothing in the world but her imagination. She decided to create a story for herself to pass the time pleasantly.“Let there be colourful flowers and trees and soft grass to sit on”, she said. A garden appeared instantly before her inner eye. The smell of the flowers was intense, and she became thirsty.“Let there be a well where I can get water”, she said. And she watched in amazement as a well was bui In the beginning, there was a word, and the word was Storyteller. She was very lonely. There was nothing in the world but her imagination. She decided to create a story for herself to pass the time pleasantly.“Let there be colourful flowers and trees and soft grass to sit on”, she said. A garden appeared instantly before her inner eye. The smell of the flowers was intense, and she became thirsty.“Let there be a well where I can get water”, she said. And she watched in amazement as a well was built out of thin air. There was a bucket to draw water from the deep dark bottom. The Storyteller was excited. When she hauled up the bucket and drank the sweet water, she noticed a green, tiny living thing in it.“Oh”, she said. “I didn’t ask for you, but you are welcome anyway. I will call you frog, and you shall be my friend!”And she took the frog in her hand, and it smiled at her, responding to her touch with a loud and clear:“Quack!”“Oh, that is very nice”, said the Storyteller. “It is almost like me, making noises that sound like talk!”For a while, the Storyteller was completely happy and satisfied with her new friend, trying to make it quack as much as possible. But after some time, it became monotonous.“I wish it it was a little bit more like me, a sort of companion”, she said. But the frog stayed the same it had always been. “That is strange”, said the Storyteller. “So far, things have always come to me as soon as I had an idea in my head, but now my wish remains unfulfilled. I wonder why. Maybe I need to apply some magic to make living creatures!”And she picked up the frog, closed her eyes firmly, and touched it gently with her lips, while thinking very hard. “I want a companion!”The frog in her hand stayed the same, but all of a sudden there was another one in the grass, almost the same. She tried to kiss the frog again for another wish to come true, but the magic was spent. It did not work anymore.The Storyteller watched the happy union of the two frogs and felt very sad and lonely.“Now they are two of the same kind, and I am even more alone than before!”Resolutely, she grabbed the new frog, looked at it, and said:“If the frog made you identical, you must be magical as well, and I need a new friend! And it shall not be tiny, and cold, and green. It shall be bigger and softer and with long hair like me!”She closed her eyes, kissed it hard, and kept it in her trembling hand for a moment, not daring to check whether the magic had worked or not. When she let the frog go, and looked around, she saw a majestic creature lying on the ground, yellow, furry, strong, with a long, wild mane.“Oh, you are pretty!” said the Storyteller. “I will call you Lion!”And the Storyteller and the lion lived quite contentedly for a while, watching the frogs jump around. The Storyteller imagined a pond for them, and they swam in it, to her great delight. After a while, there were more frogs, a whole community.“I wonder where they are all coming from”, said the Storyteller. “For it certainly did not work to kiss one frog twice for more companions. There must be another spell between the two frogs. But now I have plenty of new frogs to kiss, and I know what I will do. I will give my lion a friend, for he looks lonely as well. And I am going to call her lioness!”As the frogs and lions kept multiplying, the Storyteller found herself more and more busy, collecting kissable frogs to create new living beings. Every being she imagined and made come alive through the magical frog kissing procedure seemed to need something else, and her garden grew wilder and wilder, and more and more complicated. At first, the Storyteller enjoyed the new development, for she was never bored, and her imagination grew with each new creature that entered the story. But so far, none of the creatures had responded to her in the way they responded to their own kind. There was always a gap between the Storyteller and the story. And she felt lonely at night, when she was not too tired to think.One day, she bent over the pond to watch a new fish she had created. It swam exquisitely, and she was very proud of its colourful design. But on the surface of the pond, she caught a glimpse of herself, and her sad, lonely eyes stared back at her, and made her want to cry. “Oh, cheer up, little me”, she said reassuringly to her face in the pond mirror, giving herself an encouraging smile. That smile changed her life.“I want to have another human being around, to talk to and laugh with, and to discuss the garden community!”She grabbed a fresh frog, kissed it rapidly, and thought:“I want an exact copy of myself!” Her hope was to have a companion like the other animals, and to be able to create new beings without the intermediate step of the frog kissing magic. But her wish had been very specific, not for a companion, but for a copy. And so she welcomed another woman to the garden, just as beautiful and lovely as herself, and just as full of imagination.The Storyteller was overjoyed at first, and spent days talking about what she had done so far, and which were her favourite creatures. The two women walked arm in arm, like sisters and best friends, and loved each other dearly. Life finally seemed to be a story with a happy end.But one day, the Storyteller noticed something different in the garden. There were animals she did not recognise. Where did they come from?“I made them”, her friend proudly announced, expecting praise for her creativity. But the Storyteller felt her heart break, her stomach turn, her head burst.“But I am the Storyteller”, she screamed. “I am the one who is making up the creatures and the stories and the plots and the settings!”“I tried with one of the unkissed frogs, and it worked just as well for me!”“But you have no right to do that! This is my story, and the frogs are my property!”“What do you mean, your story? We are both in it!”“But I made you up!”“And now I am here, with the same rights and the same power!”The two women were very angry, and refused to talk to each other. They withdrew into different corners of the garden and began to collect armies of frogs for warfare. Whatever they made up was designed to cause pain and disorder in the other woman’s part of the garden. It did not take long before the world became unbearably violent, and animals were killing and eating each other. For each new animal, there instantly was a natural counterpart, a deadly enemy. The women spent all their imagination on creating schemes to destroy each other’s creations and to protect their own. Mountainous fortifications grew. Deep oceans spread. Stormy clouds brought rain that filled raging rivers and flooded the beautiful grassland. But as time passed, the women grew tired of the war, and they began to feel lonely again. They missed the company of another human. The Storyteller thought of making peace and sharing the immensity of the creation equally. After all, it was now vast enough for both of them, and she was also very curious to discover more in detail the stories her sister had invented. But she was dreadfully hurt, and could not overcome her pride. She still thought she was the entitled one, while her sister was a usurper.“I am going to create another human”, she thought. “And this time, I am not making the same mistake again!”She grabbed a frog, held it tight, kissed it and thought with all her willpower:“I want a companion for myself who worships me and my beauty, but who is taller and stronger than I am so that I am well protected against that evil witch on the other side of the garden!”And she opened her eyes, saw a man standing in front of her, and was very happy. He was tall, strong, and handsome, and he immediately worshipped her and made her feel precious. Now her story had a happy ending, she thought. But she was wrong about that. Her story had just begun, and there was no end to it at all from now on. The Storyteller realised that she had created the curse of human chain reactions when she saw that her enemy had imagined and kissed alive a man for herself, to protect and worship her! He was even taller and stronger than her own man, and she felt envy creep into her heart. She wanted one like that as well! The Storyteller was about to produce an army of frog-kissed men when her imagination all of a sudden made her see the future, an eternal war in the making. She had to stop the violence of humankind before it destroyed itself and all other creatures. She knew what she had to do to save the world. She grabbed a frog and kissed it with all the despair of foreboding:“I wish that the magic of the frogs shall end! From now on, we are on our own!”She thought that it would be enough to take the magic out of the world. She had forgotten that humans now had companions, and could reproduce themselves without the frog magic.Oh, how she regretted that she took away the frog power! She realised too late that the man she had created as her own companion, but taller and stronger than herself, and with a ferocious wish to protect her, did not need frogs. He could take over her position as Creator and Storyteller with the power of his muscles. It would take centuries and centuries for woman to remedy the terrible mistake of the loss of the magical frogs.With the loss, the era of the fairy tales ended and the era of reality began. But many, many of the stories from the fairy tale era remained in the world, and were told to children as cautionary tales or just to pass the time pleasantly. And they varied slightly from Storyteller to Storyteller, for from the beginning of time, Storytellers have tried to surpass and outwit each other with ever-growing imagination.
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  • Zack Rock
    January 1, 1970
    What a weird book. The thrust of the author's arguments could have been stated in a long article. Instead, he decided to pad his interesting points with needless photographs, narrative asides, and pointlessly graphic examples (he seems to be particularly stuck on the image of an evil elf masturbating in a laundry room). This is all in lieu of a more satisfying engagement with his primary sources, which are too often tacked onto anecdotal examples to grant them additional credence. Moreover, he t What a weird book. The thrust of the author's arguments could have been stated in a long article. Instead, he decided to pad his interesting points with needless photographs, narrative asides, and pointlessly graphic examples (he seems to be particularly stuck on the image of an evil elf masturbating in a laundry room). This is all in lieu of a more satisfying engagement with his primary sources, which are too often tacked onto anecdotal examples to grant them additional credence. Moreover, he tends to wade in the realm of psychiatric and neurological studies, disregarding the work of literary critics entirely.I get that this is a popular nonfiction title for a general audience, but your readers deserve more than a couple of short Steven Pinker quotes when you casually cast away thousands of years of religious traditions and replace it with World of Warcraft. A deeper struggle with the subject would have been appreciated.
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  • Audra (Unabridged Chick)
    January 1, 1970
    I loved Gottschall from the first line of this book; I quickly saw he was a book fan geeking out about how awesome fiction is and I cheerfully followed along.I'm always going to fangirl over books on books -- I can't help it. I love readers and I love reading about reading. Gottschall takes joy in not just reading, but all forms of storytelling, from country music songs to commercials and films. He examines how fiction -- storytelling -- helps us individually and globally.Trivia fans will love t I loved Gottschall from the first line of this book; I quickly saw he was a book fan geeking out about how awesome fiction is and I cheerfully followed along.I'm always going to fangirl over books on books -- I can't help it. I love readers and I love reading about reading. Gottschall takes joy in not just reading, but all forms of storytelling, from country music songs to commercials and films. He examines how fiction -- storytelling -- helps us individually and globally.Trivia fans will love this book because it is chock full of tidbits to toss out at your next party or family gathering (for example, a 2009 study showed more people were scarred by scary films than real world horrors like 9/11 or the Rwandan genocide.) Gottschall's writing style is casual, funny, friendly, and approachable and he references contemporary and classic fictions. He breaks down scientific studies on neurons, behavior, emotions and offers a trenchant and funny argument in support of fiction in all its forms.In addition to being a great read for anyone who likes fiction and doesn't mind a dip into popular non-fiction, I think this would make a unique book club pick. Breezy readable, this book celebrates what we all love about storytelling, and provides great themes and ideas to chew and discuss. Gift this book for the bookish college grad in your life or the light reader who needs a nudge to pick up a novel because page 66 offers a very good reason why: "In one study, they [researchers] found that heavy fiction readers had better social skills -- as measured by tests of social and empathetic ability -- than those who mainly read nonfiction." Novel readers rejoice: we're awesome.
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  • Michael
    January 1, 1970
    Is Jonathan Gottschall padding a portfolio for tenure? That's about the only excuse I can come up with for the waste of paper used in printing this book. The many photographs and illustrations (poorly reproduced) add absolutely nothing to the arguments advanced by the author -- they merely take up space in in a book that is already as short on pages as it is short on original ideas. As far as I can tell, the author drew on the works of real scholars, augmented his summaries thereof with musings Is Jonathan Gottschall padding a portfolio for tenure? That's about the only excuse I can come up with for the waste of paper used in printing this book. The many photographs and illustrations (poorly reproduced) add absolutely nothing to the arguments advanced by the author -- they merely take up space in in a book that is already as short on pages as it is short on original ideas. As far as I can tell, the author drew on the works of real scholars, augmented his summaries thereof with musings about his daughters at play, retellings of his own rather disturbing dreams and fantasies, and then larded in enough photographs and illustrations to make his page count. I learned nothing from reading this book about how stories make us human, and I found the writing sophomoric. On the flap, Steven Pinker is quoted as saying that Gottschall's writing is "unfailingly clear, witty, and exciting" (all the attributes lacking in Pinker's prose), but I most strongly disagree. That it is a popular rather than an academic book is no excuse. There are many distinguished scholars who write interesting and informative books for the general public. The topic is valid; the execution flawed.
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  • Andrea McDowell
    January 1, 1970
    I always find it humourous when people try to distinguish themselves by claiming that they never waste time reading fiction, just non-fiction.Listen: ALL animal species communicate non-fiction. Bees tell each other where the flowers are, ants leave pheremone trails to food, and mammals, birds and amphibians of all varieties advertise mate-seeking status, warn kin of predators nearby, and announce food availability. To be sure human non-fiction communications are more detailed, various and knowle I always find it humourous when people try to distinguish themselves by claiming that they never waste time reading fiction, just non-fiction.Listen: ALL animal species communicate non-fiction. Bees tell each other where the flowers are, ants leave pheremone trails to food, and mammals, birds and amphibians of all varieties advertise mate-seeking status, warn kin of predators nearby, and announce food availability. To be sure human non-fiction communications are more detailed, various and knowledgeable, but that is a difference in quantity, not quality, and places us squarely with our evolutionary kin. However, humans are the only animals that talk about things that never happened to people who never existed. As a universal trait that exists in all cultures, appears spontaneously in childhood, and where parents spontaneously encourage this behaviour by engaging their children in pretend play and story-telling, one might think that it is an adaptative trait--no?--that confers evolutionary advantages. And one would be right, as this book describes. Fiction enhances social skills and enables people to practice problem-solving skills; it coheres societies around common sets of moral values and principles (the author places religion with fiction, which he uses as a prime example of this tendency, but not the only one); it bonds social groups; and along the way it provides people with a tremendous amount of pleasure, although, as the author points out, this is beyond odd as successful stories are almost always about trauma and trouble. Why should that be pleasurable?It's also a very well-written, entertaining and compulsively readable book--one of the first non-fiction books in a long time I stayed up late to finish. Did you know that exposure to even just one short story or short TV show (fiction) can alter someone's moral stance on an issue, or even alter the person's results on a personality test? Fiction is potent stuff. Fun book. If you're a big fiction-reader (or fiction-viewer, or both), read it--and the next time someone gives you a hard time for wasting so much of your life on fluff when you could be engaged in serious, productive pursuits like reading about the history of braille or baking a loaf of bread or spending the time working so as to make more money etc., you'll have the perfect riposte. Fiction is one of the things that truly sets humans apart from the other animals. Without fiction, we're beavers or ants, running around looking for mates and food and building houses and alliances. But fully evolved human beings can generally be found, at least sometimes, loafing around with a good novel or watching a good movie. And that is just as it should be.
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  • Ryan
    January 1, 1970
    This book was incredibly disappointing. The question of why humans are so inclined to view the world in narrative terms is fascinating, but aside from a handful of interesting scientific studies, this book fails to provide a well supported theory as to the answer.Gottschall is a lecturer in English, and he writes very much from a cultural/literary perspective. Support for his points mostly comes from popular novels or cultural events. This would be fine if Gottschall was merely trying to enumera This book was incredibly disappointing. The question of why humans are so inclined to view the world in narrative terms is fascinating, but aside from a handful of interesting scientific studies, this book fails to provide a well supported theory as to the answer.Gottschall is a lecturer in English, and he writes very much from a cultural/literary perspective. Support for his points mostly comes from popular novels or cultural events. This would be fine if Gottschall was merely trying to enumerate the different types of stories that appear in our lives. The problem lies in him arguing that he has answers which he in fact does not, and those shortcomings become painfully apparent as the book goes on.It reads much like the primitive "research papers" that my fellow students and I were forced to write in high school. A basic thesis is chosen (usually a gut feeling about something), and any possible references are hauled out no matter if they support the thesis or are just related in some way. Yet in the mind of the student, the reference are there, so the point has been made.This is a quote from the book that I find typifies the emptiness of its language and arguments.The characters in fiction are just wiggles of ink on paper (or chemical stains on celluloid). They are ink people. They live in ink houses inside ink towns. They work at ink jobs. They have inky problems. They sweat ink and cry ink, and when they are cut, they bleed ink. And yet ink people press effortlessly through the porous membrane separating their inky world from ours. They move through our flesh-and-blood world and weird real power in it. As we have seen, this is spectacularly true of sacred fictions. The ink people of scripture have a real, live presence in our world. They shape our behavior and customs, and in so doing, they transform societies and histories.The "ink people" metaphor isn't misleading or dishonest in any way, it just doesn't say much of anything. Only the last sentence is really saying something concrete, and it reads like the thesis of a 10th grade English paper.
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  • Ken
    January 1, 1970
    The Storytelling Animal is another in a recent spate of Malcolm Gladwell-inspired essay collections, learned yet at the same time so breezy that your shirt might lose some starch. Middle-brow fun, these books entertain while they inform. In this case, Gottschall takes on all angles of "story" so that you can see that, like air, narrative is everywhere and everywhere is narrative. His thesis: Humans are hard-wired for story, from the oral tradition to the print era and beyond (hint: "beyond" equa The Storytelling Animal is another in a recent spate of Malcolm Gladwell-inspired essay collections, learned yet at the same time so breezy that your shirt might lose some starch. Middle-brow fun, these books entertain while they inform. In this case, Gottschall takes on all angles of "story" so that you can see that, like air, narrative is everywhere and everywhere is narrative. His thesis: Humans are hard-wired for story, from the oral tradition to the print era and beyond (hint: "beyond" equals the virtual borders we have crossed in the technological era).If you are really interested in story and want to go deep for a hail Mary, consider Alberto Manguel's comprehensive A History of Reading. By comparison, this is more of a survey sort of deal with an "angle" that might leave you hungry for more. Gottschall talks about the nature of story, how a predicament and conflict is necessary, how similar all stories are at their fundamental roots. Dreams? Stories. Memoirs? Stories with accent on the fictional aspect. On-line video games, reenactments on battlefields, reality TV shows? Story, story, story. One thing I do like is when Gottschall is willing to take a more controversial stand such as he does with video gaming fanatics. To him, they are not so much escapist nerds as wise people who are simply embracing a more palatable world (and story) at the expense of a more boring and despairing one (the story that is their lives in the "real" world). I place "real" in quotation marks because, Gottschall claims, the line between fictional story and real is blurring by the day. For some, this comes as good news! For others, it's further signs of the approaching apocalypse. If you're a depth reader and a fan of reading, 3-star it and mine what you will. If you're a breadth reader and a fan of reading, 4-star it and share a few tidbits at the next cocktail party (where many stories are unfolding) you attend. End of story. And yes, reviews -- as well as the persona developed by all reviewers -- constitute yet another story. Let's hope, in the case of this writer, it ends with the words, "And he lived happily ever after."
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  • Stela
    January 1, 1970
    Someone complained that Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal is overgrown – that is, that all the ideas it contains could have been easily synthetized in a long article. I wouldn’t go so far, although I also felt sometimes that one point or another was discussed to its outer limits. Anyway, it was an interesting enough reading, even if not very original. The premise of the book, disclosed by the title (quoting Graham Swift’s inspiring definition of mankind given in Waterland: “Man – let Someone complained that Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal is overgrown – that is, that all the ideas it contains could have been easily synthetized in a long article. I wouldn’t go so far, although I also felt sometimes that one point or another was discussed to its outer limits. Anyway, it was an interesting enough reading, even if not very original. The premise of the book, disclosed by the title (quoting Graham Swift’s inspiring definition of mankind given in Waterland: “Man – let me offer you a definition – is the storytelling animal”) is that the human being is a Homo fictus, who makes up stories all his life, whether he is an artist or not, and the author takes his time in revealing how and why the fiction influences the human life, to stress “the major function” of storytelling: to shape the very human mind that shaped it, in order to prepare it for the everyday problems. One of the first arguments concerns the dreams, apparently an inexhaustible spring for tales the brain carefully concocts for our protection, since dreams are not, as Flanagan once believed, “brain waste”, that is, “a useless by-product of all the useful work the sleeping brain does”, but, as Michael Jouvet discovered in the 50s, after realizing that the animals experience REM sleep, rather a rehearsal to prepare both humans and other beings for the life challenges. Recent research suggests that if geese dream – and it is possible that they do – they probably don’t dream of maize. They probably dream of foxes.Stories have also the function to fill in the blanks of bizarre and/ or unexplained phenomena, behavior, actions. Another celebrated scientist, Michael Gazzaniga, the pioneer of the split-brain neuroscience school, discovered that the two sides of the brain have different functions: while the right brain specializes in identifying shapes, paying attention to details and generally controlling movement, images, sounds, the left one is responsible for speaking and thinking and imagining, and he observed that quite often, when a subject whose right brain is defective could not offer an explanation for his actions, he would rather fabricate a clever story instead of letting the “why” question unanswered:The storytelling mind is allergic to uncertainty, randomness and coincidence. If the storytelling mind cannot find meaningful patterns in the world, it will try to impose them. In short, the storytelling mind is a factory that churns out true stories when it can, but will manufacture lies when it can’t.Here it is a possible explanation for the fact that not only the fool or the stupid but even the intelligent persons can firmly believe in the most fanciful conspiracy theory: the mind needs to be permanently reassured that all experience is meaningful, so it looks for plausible explanations that could counteract evilness: Conspiracy theories offer ultimate answers to a great mystery of the human condition: why are things so bad in the world? (…) for this reason, conspiracy theories – no matter how many devils they invoke – are always consoling in their simplicity. Bad things do not happen because of a wildly complex swirls of abstract historical and social variables. They happen because bad men live to stalk our happiness. And you can fight, and possibly even defeat, bad men. If you can read the hidden story.Furthermore, it was proved many times that the stories can inexorably shape our future (and sometimes indirectly the future of the others): think of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Rienzi, which inspired Wagner’s opera, which influenced Hitler, and which thus changed the world; think of Uncle’s Tom Cabin, which made Abraham Lincoln meet Harriet Beecher-Stove and say to her the flattering but not without a grain of truth words that her novel provided all the right reasons for the Civil War; or think of Tolstoy who regarded his work as a noble disease that could “infect” people with his ideas and emotions.Last but not least, stories (and dreams) apart from preparing us to live our lives and making us discern between good and evil, teach us to live comfortably with ourselves, by fogging the memory of our past actions in order to let us be the impeccable heroes of our lives, thus keeping us apart from the despair of the nothingness:Depressed people have lost their positive illusions; they rate their personal qualities much more plausibly than average. They are able to see, with terrible clarity, that they are not all that special. According to the psychologist Shelley Taylor, a healthy mind tells itself flattering lies. And if it does not lie to itself, it is not healthy. Why? Because (…) positive illusions keep us from yielding to despair.It was inevitable, of course, for such a book to argue about the future of literary fiction in a time where the decreasing of reading is a worldwide phenomenon. The author is once again optimistic: many a work a fiction is published every day so the reader species is still alive and kicking. I found it however a little naïve (and a bit insulting) his belief that songs are poems and anyone who can tell by heart lyrics is a connoisseur of poetry:Ours is not the age when poetry died; it is the age when poetry triumphed in the form of song. It is the age of American Idol. It is the age when people carry around ten or twenty thousand of their favorite poems stored on little white rectangles tucked into their hip pockets. It is an age when most of us know hundred of these poems by heart.Me too, I’d like to think that poetry is not dead. But I would prefer it to be dead than to be reduced to Taylor Swift’s lyrics, hearted as they are.
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  • Gordon
    January 1, 1970
    If I could give a book a six-star rating, I'd probably give it to this book. Written by an Engish professor at Washington and Jefferson College, Jonathan Gottschall, it's as good as anything you will ever read about stories and how they mold us as individuals and hold our societies together. It is, I think, quite brilliant.Gottschall romps through a huge range of psychology, evolutionary theory, anthropology, media studies, and even the sociology of online multi-player gaming communities in spin If I could give a book a six-star rating, I'd probably give it to this book. Written by an Engish professor at Washington and Jefferson College, Jonathan Gottschall, it's as good as anything you will ever read about stories and how they mold us as individuals and hold our societies together. It is, I think, quite brilliant.Gottschall romps through a huge range of psychology, evolutionary theory, anthropology, media studies, and even the sociology of online multi-player gaming communities in spinning his analysis. It's often hugely insightful and almost always persuasive. More importantly, it's a great story. Because, after all, it's stories that persuade us, not facts or reason on their own.The author's foundation belief is that "we are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories." In fact, he thinks that our species would be more aptly called "homo fictus" (fiction man), the great ape with the story-telling mind. He says emphatically that "Neverland is your home, and before you die, you will spend decades there." Gottschall observes that anthropologists have yet to find a culture that does not tell stories. Moreover, these stories are all very similar across cultures, and deal with the universal themes of sex, love, struggle for power, good and evil, death ... The plot line always contains some form of Trouble with a capital T. The structure of the stories is also near-universal, following the formula of story = character + conflict + attempted resolution. From this set of cultural universals, it is tempting to conclude that we are wired for stories. That's the theory that Gottschall essentially embraces. In particular, he embraces the view of David Sloan Wilson in his book "Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society" that cultures that tell stories out-compete those that don't. Stories hold societies together, providing them with a set of common, shared myths: foundation stories, religious stories, patriotic stories, and so forth. A cooperative, united society kicks ass against the every-man-for-himself society. Gottschall does a wonderful job of drawing on the world of story-telling to illustrate how life can imitate art, on a grand scale. Some stories promote greater racial understanding or greater wariness of authoritarianism, such as To Kill a Mockingbird or Animal Farm or Darkness at Noon. Some, on the other hand, promote hatred, such as DW Griffith's silent classic film Birth of Nation, which created a renaissance for the Klu Klux Klan in the early 20th century by painting that organization as the savior of the white race in the post-Civil War southern U.S. And at least one book has even triggered a major war: Uncle Tom's Cabin increased opposition to slavery but also helped unleash a civil war that slaughtered a good part of an entire generation of young American men. A century and a half later, the effects of that war still linger.Gottschall does not just focus at the societal level. At the level of individuals, he analyzes the role of our addiction to made-up stories in writing the history of our own lives. It's a well-studied phenomenon that our memories of the actual facts of our lives are notoriously unreliable. Even our deeply held conviction that we remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when a disaster occurred -- 9/11, the assassination of John F Kennedy -- turns out to be self-delusion. The accuracy of our recollection fades, but our confidence does not. The majority of Americans confidently and precisely remember seeing video of the first plane striking one of the World Trade Centers on the morning of 9/11. So did George Bush, when he described his reactions just three months after the events. No such video was available at the time. But faulty memories are not necessarily a weakness. Since our memories are so unreliable, this frees us to write our own, improved versions of our lives. Happy people write happy stories. Happy stories create happy people.Notoriously, we also see patterns in events even where none exists. There are thousands of conspiracy sub-cultures that have woven together random bits of flotsam and jetsam to assemble simple theories of how the world works. We don't like randomness. We don't like to believe that shit just happens. We don't like to think that four American diplomats got killed in Benghazi in Libya because, well, bad things do just happen in chaotic war-torn countries where lots of people hate the U.S. and where there is no functioning government. Instead, we see a vast cover-up orchestrated from the top. It's easier to believe in handful of bad guys hatching a plot than it is to conceive of the real life, complex maelstrom of post-Gaddhafi Libya.The last chapter, on the future of story-telling, is particularly good. If you've ever heard of World of Warcraft, you should read that chapter. It almost made me want to play the game. Almost.
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  • Tristan Yi
    January 1, 1970
    Humans are the storytelling animal. Everything we see, hear, feel, dream, and experience is a story. Every single moment we live is a part of the confluence of the haphazardly interconnected vignettes and events that we weave into the story we call our Lives. The reality of dreaming, the frailty of memory, and the reason for our perpetual hunger for story, whatever form it takes, are all covered in Jonathan Gottschall's magnum opus of wonder, experience, and the pseudo-figurative human condition Humans are the storytelling animal. Everything we see, hear, feel, dream, and experience is a story. Every single moment we live is a part of the confluence of the haphazardly interconnected vignettes and events that we weave into the story we call our Lives. The reality of dreaming, the frailty of memory, and the reason for our perpetual hunger for story, whatever form it takes, are all covered in Jonathan Gottschall's magnum opus of wonder, experience, and the pseudo-figurative human condition.The Storytelling Animal is a book for the ages, and a story for the soul, but not in a gooey, trashy way; it's in more of a literary, fun, and awesome kind of way.So, you know, the best kind.
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  • Emily Crowe
    January 1, 1970
    I was surprised upon picking up this book how little that is not story in our lives: there are the expected books of course, but also tv, movies, jokes, commercials, lies, gathering 'round the water cooler, and even sports events; really, the list goes on. Gottschall delves into the fascinating evolutionary, cultural, biological, and even neurological reasons why our species is defined by our storytelling, both communal and individual. This is by far the most compelling non-narrative nonfiction I was surprised upon picking up this book how little that is not story in our lives: there are the expected books of course, but also tv, movies, jokes, commercials, lies, gathering 'round the water cooler, and even sports events; really, the list goes on. Gottschall delves into the fascinating evolutionary, cultural, biological, and even neurological reasons why our species is defined by our storytelling, both communal and individual. This is by far the most compelling non-narrative nonfiction I've read in simply ages, and what's more, it should be required reading for every single reader and writer out there.
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  • Son Tung
    January 1, 1970
    I must thank this book despite the 3 stars rating. It clears my thoughts on the dichotomy between fiction and non-fiction. Ofcourse they are different in many ways. However, to get a good experience contemplating about life in general, both of them are valid. There i realized that the unifying concept for both categories is "a story". It seems to me there is no doubt that people are addicted to good story. The book explains it very well: a story offers mental, emotional, imagined social simulati I must thank this book despite the 3 stars rating. It clears my thoughts on the dichotomy between fiction and non-fiction. Ofcourse they are different in many ways. However, to get a good experience contemplating about life in general, both of them are valid. There i realized that the unifying concept for both categories is "a story". It seems to me there is no doubt that people are addicted to good story. The book explains it very well: a story offers mental, emotional, imagined social simulation at low cost and with low risk compared to a real situation. In non-fiction, the story can be in the forms of memoirs or small anecdotes in pop science. In fiction, it can be in the forms of novels, poems.The reason i gave only 3 stars: large chunks of the book confirm what i already know or i think i know
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  • Juan
    January 1, 1970
    This book was a disappointment.The subject of the book -that we live in an essentially fictional world of fabulation, misrepresentation, self-deception, duplicity, daydreaming, mythmaking and myth consumption- has momentous implications for things as abstract as the philosophical concept of truth or the purpose of national narratives to basic concrete applications such as the legal system's reliance on witness accounts.Unfortunately, aside from a useful summary of the state of the art (or the sc This book was a disappointment.The subject of the book -that we live in an essentially fictional world of fabulation, misrepresentation, self-deception, duplicity, daydreaming, mythmaking and myth consumption- has momentous implications for things as abstract as the philosophical concept of truth or the purpose of national narratives to basic concrete applications such as the legal system's reliance on witness accounts.Unfortunately, aside from a useful summary of the state of the art (or the science, I should say, neuroscience) regarding our brain's compulsion to weave narratives from the data of everyday life, and an interesting bibliography that probably contains the books I was hoping this one would be, The Storytelling Animal is direly short of actual insights from the author. The two places where Gottschall ventures actual propositions of his own are either simplistic and retrograde (stories are there to further morality) or platitudinous and slightly ridiculous (interactive stories are the vanguard of storytelling / in the near future we will all engage in live or virtual role playing games).Authorities on the first theory are Gottschall himself referring to a study he will soon publish but of which contents or conclusions he supplies nil; Tolstoy, whose classic stance is hardly newsworthy; and Gardener, whose position is mentioned without comment as if it represented the definitive consensus on the subject.Are stories, and literature in general, really supposed to underpin and foster moral behavior? Contrary evidence, that is to say, the vast majority of literature written during the XX century, is dismissed as a mere faux pas. Humbert Humbert? Dismissed with a shrug of incomprehension.Not only is the book short on insight and useful or innovative conclusions, it is written in the typical pop science style of endless repetition, entertaining but obvious exemplar anecdote and condescending tone of the schoolmaster.As a general primer, yes, competent but not great. As a vehicle of well considered theories, not quite. Look elsewhere first: possibly in Boyd or Iser.
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  • Jenny (Reading Envy)
    January 1, 1970
    I was reading this with a specific purpose in mind, looking for more resources for my upcoming storytelling class. Gottschall tries to be so all-encompassing, from fiction to personal stories, that I didn't get nearly as much out of this as I expected. The most interesting section to me had to do with whether memories can be trusted, an element I think will make for great discussion in a class full of students tasked with telling their own stories.Some of the best bits in the book come from quot I was reading this with a specific purpose in mind, looking for more resources for my upcoming storytelling class. Gottschall tries to be so all-encompassing, from fiction to personal stories, that I didn't get nearly as much out of this as I expected. The most interesting section to me had to do with whether memories can be trusted, an element I think will make for great discussion in a class full of students tasked with telling their own stories.Some of the best bits in the book come from quotations of other people:"God made Man because He loves stories." - Elie WieselIdeas I can use in my class:The idea of fiction as escape (and open it up to stories in general, since other people's stories probably share what we find in fiction):"If fiction offers escape, it is a bizarre sort of escape. Our various fictional worlds are - on the whole- horrorscapes. Fiction may temporarily free us from our troubles, but it does so by ensnaring us in new sets of troubles.And then he compares that to something completely mundane, a good conversation starting point, maybe asking, "What would have saved this?"This formula:Story = Character + Predicament + Attempted Extrication(Even if people don't agree, good for discussion.)
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  • Damian
    January 1, 1970
    The Story Telling Animal is a master work.Gottschall argues that our constant fictional consumption shifts who we are and also makes us adept storytellers in our own lives. Gottschall's book unlocked something in me. The realization that I am a walking work of fiction, albeit a constantly evolving one. FASCINATING!I am a consumer of all things Non-Fiction and love Pinker, Gladwell and Dawkins. As I read this I could see the torch being passed and realized that I was reading the words of the next The Story Telling Animal is a master work.Gottschall argues that our constant fictional consumption shifts who we are and also makes us adept storytellers in our own lives. Gottschall's book unlocked something in me. The realization that I am a walking work of fiction, albeit a constantly evolving one. FASCINATING!I am a consumer of all things Non-Fiction and love Pinker, Gladwell and Dawkins. As I read this I could see the torch being passed and realized that I was reading the words of the next great mind in Non Fiction. Gottschall has the writer's flair. His prose cracks like a whip and I could not help myself but reread passages for their intensity and brilliance.I have always been a glutton for story and yet hadn't fully realized the power of story(see his chapter on Hitler). This book artfully makes us examine the sheer amount of story that we consume and reflect upon how it forms our own personal narratives.This book should be required reading for anyone who loves story, which Gottschall and this reviewer would argue is all of us.Read this book!
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  • Orsolya
    January 1, 1970
    As a bibliophile, not only do I enjoy books but I am fascinated by the idea of stories in general. They have been around since the dawn of man, they transport us to other worlds even as our bodies are stationary, and they are subjective (stories are like line drawings which each individual fills in with color and shading, the author contends). Jonathan Gottschall explores the neuroscience, psychology, and evolutionary biology behind stories (be it books, plays, films, advertisements, or music); As a bibliophile, not only do I enjoy books but I am fascinated by the idea of stories in general. They have been around since the dawn of man, they transport us to other worlds even as our bodies are stationary, and they are subjective (stories are like line drawings which each individual fills in with color and shading, the author contends). Jonathan Gottschall explores the neuroscience, psychology, and evolutionary biology behind stories (be it books, plays, films, advertisements, or music); in “The Storytelling Animal”. (Note: Don’t be deterred by the endorsement of the work from Jonah Lehrer who was in the news for plagiarizing his own book, “Imagine” which has since ceased print).Gottschall begins “The Storytelling Animal” quite compellingly by introducing the various forms/varieties of stories flooding our existence and the theories behind their possible causes/impacts on biological evolution. This is expressed in an easy-to-read conversational style suitable for the average reader. Unfortunately, this can be too simplified and at times, Gottschall uses poor grammar (I counted one page with 8 lines beginning with prepositions!). One would expect more from a book on the science of stories. Furthermore, Gottschall seems too eager to discuss all his ideas which results in choppiness and a lack of clarity (he constantly mentions topics and then states that he will get back to them).Despite these flaws and the inability to truly answer whether storytelling is an evolutionary mainstay or side effect; “The Storytelling Animal” does explore the theories of stories on cultures, why they may have developed, trends (such as the gender imagination of children), etc. Although the reader sometimes has to be reminded of the connection and may fail to see the hypothesis; the topic is fascinating and thought provoking. If nothing else, “The Storytelling Animal” is definitely a conversation starter. Elaborating on this, Gottschall doesn’t answer the question of why we tell stories and why they fill our lives. Granted, this isn’t simply black and white with a firm answer so Gottschall hints at his opinion while offering various theories and experimental results. This is well documented and noted, giving at least an illusion of a scientific background even though “The Storytelling Animal” is a light read. Basically, more questions are posed than answered; but the science which is discussed is remarkable and often times conclusive.Again, the lack of a clear stream is evident along with an absence of knowing what Gottschall is proposing. Plus, the photos every few pages do not add to the text or ideas and seemingly take up room in the already short book. Don’t expect cutting-edge science here. The conclusion of “The Storytelling Animal” which discusses Gottschall’s opinions of the future of stories plus his tips on how to retain them in one’s life felt weak, forced and not comprehensive of the whole book. Overall, “The Storytelling Animal” is a wonderful topic (suggested for bibliophiles) but has execution flaws making it too light and “fun” if seeking an academic piece. However, I can’t argue that it isn’t enjoyable and thus, I would read more from the author.NOTE: Statistics have proven that the average American only reads for about 20 minutes a day which includes various media forms. Clearly, everyone on GR is not average!
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  • Rachel Nabors
    January 1, 1970
    In the Emperor's New Clothes, the king pays a pair of con artists handsomely to sew for him the finest clothing in all the country. They enthuse that the "garment" they supply him with is so fine that it can only be perceived by the most regal of sensibilities. Unwilling to admit his lack of regal-ness, the king proceeds to parade about naked in front of his subjects, who, also terrified to admit they might be un-cool, praise the beauty of his raiment. Then a small, ignorant, naive child points In the Emperor's New Clothes, the king pays a pair of con artists handsomely to sew for him the finest clothing in all the country. They enthuse that the "garment" they supply him with is so fine that it can only be perceived by the most regal of sensibilities. Unwilling to admit his lack of regal-ness, the king proceeds to parade about naked in front of his subjects, who, also terrified to admit they might be un-cool, praise the beauty of his raiment. Then a small, ignorant, naive child points out the obvious: the emperor has no clothes.This book is that king.Look at the negative reviews. They are full of truth.The author makes many bold claims, but backs them up with one or two cherry-picked studies that support his views without addressing the numerous studies that refute them. (I loved when he hammers home that little girls are fundamentally different from little boys because of his own two daughters and one study he liked. "What are all these other studies over here that disagree with you?" "WHAT? I CAN'T HEAR YOU! DOESN'T AGREE WITH MY PREMISE LALALALALA!") It's like his editor said, as a number of editors have told me on my own work, "These are some pretty sweeping assertions. You're going to need to back them up with facts." And he said, "Ok, I found these under the couch. Are we good?" The editor, excited to be working with the Emperor--I mean author--was quickly appeased.It drifts. It slides. It doesn't know what it wants to be. And it's fluffy. Mostly, the author waxes nostalgic recounting his own stories and then poetic making claims which he never quite seems to be able to back up.I bought this book hoping it would give me the ammunition I needed to make a case for storytelling when I give talks on the subject. All I got was "Jonathan Gottschall thinks stories are the templates on which we manufacture human psyche from a young age." And there are no studies to back it. Just one author's opinion.It's so badly written that I cannot recommend it, I cannot quote it, and I certainly couldn't be bothered wasting another hour of my life slogging through it. This is the kind of prose that perpetuates pseudo science and falsehoods. It's trotted out whenever someone wants to slam a discussion closed in hopes that everyone in the conversation hasn't read it before.Read at your own risk. Those who praised the Emperor's new clothes were gullible, ignorant, or sycophants. None of those are good things to be.
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  • Julie Davis
    January 1, 1970
    This was such an engaging and informative book ... up to a point. The first few chapters were real eye-openers. I never thought about toddlers' play as a sign of how embedded story is in our basic make up. Or about the fact that our dreams are stories in themselves. Somewhat incoherent stories much of the time, but stories nonetheless. Or even about the fact that when we answer, "How was your day" we're organizing our day into stories to tell at the dinner table.However, a lot of the book was an This was such an engaging and informative book ... up to a point. The first few chapters were real eye-openers. I never thought about toddlers' play as a sign of how embedded story is in our basic make up. Or about the fact that our dreams are stories in themselves. Somewhat incoherent stories much of the time, but stories nonetheless. Or even about the fact that when we answer, "How was your day" we're organizing our day into stories to tell at the dinner table.However, a lot of the book was an expansion on points made in the beginning of the book and I didn't need it to enhance my understanding of the points already made. Those who enjoy reading through scientific study summaries (engagingly told, to be sure) might enjoy those chapters more than I did. It almost felt as if the topic should have been covered in a novella length study instead.Also, the author was unable to be even-handed about topics with which he had a problem, such as religion. "The Moral of the Story" chapter was fascinating but I could have done without the little swipes at the "three major monotheisms" ... to be fair he didn't just aim at Christians, so that was a nice change.None of this is to say that the book isn't good or worthwhile. On the contrary, it is both and I definitely recommend it. It's just one I'm not going to buy for my own shelves.
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  • Neocortext
    January 1, 1970
    This was a decidedly popular rather than academic treatment of the subject--something akin to a Malcolm Gladwell or Stephen Johnson approach to storytelling than, say, a closely analytical approach. In terms of the breadth of topics covered, it is impressive, ranging from bipolarity/schizophrenia through dreams, myths, religion, conspiracy theory, and MMORPGs as the future of storytelling. Gottschall does treat these various topics with a deft, albeit somewhat superficial hand, managing--also li This was a decidedly popular rather than academic treatment of the subject--something akin to a Malcolm Gladwell or Stephen Johnson approach to storytelling than, say, a closely analytical approach. In terms of the breadth of topics covered, it is impressive, ranging from bipolarity/schizophrenia through dreams, myths, religion, conspiracy theory, and MMORPGs as the future of storytelling. Gottschall does treat these various topics with a deft, albeit somewhat superficial hand, managing--also like Gladwell--to be more though-provoking than substantial. Nevertheless, I did find his constant assertion of the moral function of literature/story, even in the modern, morally ambiguous age, a rather refreshing reminder, and although it wasn't deep, it was well done. A gloss on the subject, granted, but a pretty good gloss.
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  • Arto Bendiken
    January 1, 1970
    Best thought of as a breezy and eclectic overview of the topic, aimed at laymen indiscriminately.The book doesn't necessarily provide much depth or groundbreaking insight into the specific matters discussed, but the author's broad interdisciplinary approach—ranging from evolutionary psychology to neurology to childrearing—does succeed in motivating the theses that "story, and a variety of storylike activities, dominates human life" and that "fiction is an ancient virtual reality technology that Best thought of as a breezy and eclectic overview of the topic, aimed at laymen indiscriminately.The book doesn't necessarily provide much depth or groundbreaking insight into the specific matters discussed, but the author's broad interdisciplinary approach—ranging from evolutionary psychology to neurology to childrearing—does succeed in motivating the theses that "story, and a variety of storylike activities, dominates human life" and that "fiction is an ancient virtual reality technology that specializes in simulating human problems".It isn't perhaps clear that this level of description required a book-length treatment, but the book is a quick enough read as it is. The decent bibliography contains ample pointers for further reading; the references relating to developmental psychology were of particular interest.
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  • Charlene
    January 1, 1970
    It started a little slow, and I could have done without the preachy bits at the end, but I loved everything in between. Even if you have read Tavris' Mistake Were Made But Not By Me, Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow, Or Linden's Accidental Mind, this book adds even more to the story of fallible human brain. Gottschall focuses on why we love fiction, what fiction does to our perception, why we believe what we do, and the like. It's a quick read and Gottschall is an interesting storyteller. Be su It started a little slow, and I could have done without the preachy bits at the end, but I loved everything in between. Even if you have read Tavris' Mistake Were Made But Not By Me, Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow, Or Linden's Accidental Mind, this book adds even more to the story of fallible human brain. Gottschall focuses on why we love fiction, what fiction does to our perception, why we believe what we do, and the like. It's a quick read and Gottschall is an interesting storyteller. Be sure to check out Gottschall's article in Brockman's book What Should We Be Worried About? That article was the reason I chose to read The Storytelling Animal.
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  • Ying Ying
    January 1, 1970
    This book is a great exploration into why we are hooked to storytelling and what kind of stories we enjoy. It does not contain practical advice on how to improve your storytelling skills.
  • Olha Khilobok
    January 1, 1970
    easy to readvery comprehendibleperfect knowledge for those who strive to dig deep into anthropology of storytelling
  • Ana
    January 1, 1970
    Having a background in literary theory, the book itself felt a bit too generic, lots of the things mentioned here were familiar to me. However, it was an enjoyable read, there’s plenty of humour and fun, creepy photos scattered throughout the text!
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  • Peter Mcloughlin
    January 1, 1970
    A bit on the art of storytelling. some of tropes and motifs and why our brains organize our world around stories and how they organize our lives, our social groups, and our politics. Very powerful stuff can be used for good or ill but integral to who we are.
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  • Tracy
    January 1, 1970
    I ran across an interesting book at the library last week called The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall. His research delves into our inherent love of stories. Our ability to express ourselves with narratives has allowed us to share ideas, relate events, illustrate philosophies, and teach lessons. I think most people agree that things are easier for us to remember when we hear it through a story. We naturally pay greater attention to stories because they engage I ran across an interesting book at the library last week called The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall. His research delves into our inherent love of stories. Our ability to express ourselves with narratives has allowed us to share ideas, relate events, illustrate philosophies, and teach lessons. I think most people agree that things are easier for us to remember when we hear it through a story. We naturally pay greater attention to stories because they engage us both intellectually and emotionally. In The Storytelling Animal Gottschall presents findings from neuroscience studies. Brain scans are proving to be very illuminating in a number of fields, and Gottschall reported that when our minds experience fiction they light up like the individual is actually experiencing the action and feelings directly instead of indirectly. We empathize with the characters instead of sympathize because we feel what they are going through. This is why when I am immersed in a narrative (either fiction or nonfiction) the world around me drops away and I am transported into the details and feelings of the story. Gottschall described our capacity for experiencing fiction as a computer flight simulator in our brains. We can imagine a situation in great detail, feel what it will be like, and think about what the outcomes may be without actually risking ourselves through direct action. Hearing or reading the stories of other people also lets us experience events and feelings beyond our personal experiences. This expands our knowledge and our ability to cope with new things. Gottschall wrote "Fiction is a powerful and ancient virtual reality technology that simulates the big dilemmas of human life." As a fantasy author, I know that my fiction genre is typically described as escapist. This is true, but Gottschall makes the point that escapist fiction does not appear to be whisking us away to happy worlds of foot massages and rainbows. Fiction focuses on problems, sometimes huge horrific dangerous problems like zombies have taken over and want to eat your brains. The author proposes that we seek fiction as a way of exploring big scary problems and thinking and feeling about how we might deal with them. Gottschall wrote "...if fiction offers escape, it is a bizarre sort of escape. Our various fictional worlds are -- on the whole -- horrorscapes. Fiction may temporarily free us from our troubles, but it does so by ensnaring us in new sets of troubles -- in imaginary worlds of struggle and stress and mortal woe." I absolutely agree with him. These imaginary worlds of struggle and woe are so engaging for me as a writer and a reader. I want to think about what it would be like if I had to fight for my life. Or what it would feel like to be sold into slavery. Or what dealing with magical creatures might be like, and so on. I found The Storytelling Animal to be both informative and validating. In chapter after chapter he shows how our entire species is hardwired for telling and enjoying stories. Experiencing things through our imaginations instead of only direct contact is a great human strength. Even when we sleep our dreams continue to generate experiences, and some of them are very intense. Gottschall made the point that people really can't stand to be without stories. We like to hear them and we like to tell them. Throughout humanity's existence there have been people who were storytellers. They were a little better or at least more inclined to develop narratives for the enjoyment of others. Storytelling is natural to our species. We do it much more elaborately than a honeybee dancing out directions to some good flowers. Reading The Storytelling Animal let me know that I am not weird. Our species needs storytellers to feed the constant craving within all of us to experience feelings and challenges beyond our personal lives. Everyone wants to hear a story so some people have to step up and deliver.
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  • Tripp
    January 1, 1970
    For a couple of years now, I've been watching fMRI studies pile up evidence that narrative, fiction in particular, is good for the brain, and in this book Gottschall delivers a thorough account of this phenomenon. He has an engaging style, some of which I'll quote in a bit, that makes this a quick read, though the content is well worth a slower approach to allow for pondering, or at least marginalia.The theme of the book is that our species might justifiably be called Homo fictus--fiction man. G For a couple of years now, I've been watching fMRI studies pile up evidence that narrative, fiction in particular, is good for the brain, and in this book Gottschall delivers a thorough account of this phenomenon. He has an engaging style, some of which I'll quote in a bit, that makes this a quick read, though the content is well worth a slower approach to allow for pondering, or at least marginalia.The theme of the book is that our species might justifiably be called Homo fictus--fiction man. Gottschall:You are a creature of an imaginative realm called Neverland. Neverland is your home, and before you die, you will spend decades there. If you haven't noticed this before, don't despair: story is for a human as water is for a fish--all-encompassing and not quite palpable. While your body is always fixed at a particular point in space-time, your mind is always free to ramble in lands of make-believe. And it does.Gottschall goes on to summarize the puzzling thing about fiction, the thing that underlies the claim of some people to never read fiction because they don't want to waste their time: "Evolution is ruthlessly utilitarian. How has the seeming luxury of fiction not been eliminated from human life?" Possible explanations are discussed, all of which are plausible, including one that suggests that the brain, rather than being designed for story, actually contains glitches that make it vulnerable to story.Along the way, Gottschall examines some of the fascinating science that has come into play around the puzzle of story and the brain, such as the 1990s discovery of mirror neurons, which might be the engine that drives the empathy that good fiction engages. As mirror neuron researcher Marco Iacoboni, speaking of what happens when we watch a film, puts it, "Mirror neurons...re-create for us the distress we see on the screen. We have empathy for the fictional characters...because we literally experience the same feelings ourselves....'Vicarious' is not a strong enough word to describe the effect of these mirror neurons."Nonfiction, designed to persuade through argument and evidence, consistently comes in second to fiction in measures of effectiveness at changing people's beliefs. "When we read nonfiction," Gottschall writes, "we read with our shields up. We are critical and skeptical. But when we are absorbed in a story, we drop our intellectual guard." I write this as someone who loves nonfiction, too, but there is a reason New Journalism and Creative Nonfiction make use of fictional techniques, and Gottschall has put his figurative finger squarely on it.This developing line of research is confirming for all us lovers of fiction what we knew in our hearts to be true: narrative, fiction, is good for you. The next time someone sneers at your attachment to fiction, possibly adding the insult of "I only read nonfiction" or "I only read things that are true," you have my permission, and Gottschall's, to deploy these fMRI studies with extreme prejudice.
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  • Jennifer
    January 1, 1970
    A cool overview of theories about how, where, when and why stories came to play such a central role in human life.I am human, so like any human I enjoy a good story. At least, I certainly did as a child, and from time to time I still do as an adult. Although, as an adult, I find myself mostly gravitating towards non-fiction, and even resenting the hold that story has over people. I see it as a mechanism that allows people to fall in love with falsehoods. If people just live in fantasy worlds, th A cool overview of theories about how, where, when and why stories came to play such a central role in human life.I am human, so like any human I enjoy a good story. At least, I certainly did as a child, and from time to time I still do as an adult. Although, as an adult, I find myself mostly gravitating towards non-fiction, and even resenting the hold that story has over people. I see it as a mechanism that allows people to fall in love with falsehoods. If people just live in fantasy worlds, they pay the opportunity cost of not accomplishing anything worthwhile in the real world. Except, people don't just live in fantasy worlds, and when enough people start believing in a story they have a tendency to make it start coming true. Unfortunately, many of the stories that people cling to are actually unpleasant.There is actually an upside to this, of course. As long as we can tell good stories, we can get society to accomplish great things. But that is easier said than done. And personally, I'm feeling a bit disenchanted with story. Still, it's very interesting to speculate about how story got it's power, since that power doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon.
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  • John Kaufmann
    January 1, 1970
    Excellent book - interesting thesis, and well-written. Gottschall argues that storytelling is innate; humans evolved to tells stories because it helped both the individual and the group to succeed. Stories lend coherence and meaning to our lives. Stories simulate the problems we face, and allow us to practice the key skills of human social life. Stories are universal across cultures. Stories are not about happy things; in fact, they are usually about some of the more serious problems we humans f Excellent book - interesting thesis, and well-written. Gottschall argues that storytelling is innate; humans evolved to tells stories because it helped both the individual and the group to succeed. Stories lend coherence and meaning to our lives. Stories simulate the problems we face, and allow us to practice the key skills of human social life. Stories are universal across cultures. Stories are not about happy things; in fact, they are usually about some of the more serious problems we humans face. Almost all fiction has a protagonist struggling to deal with a predicament involving some kind of anti-social behavior, thereby steeping us in the norms and values of our culture. Stories are more "truthy" than true - that is, they present events in a way that gives them a meaning that overcomes helps the protagonist resolve the dilemma they were confronted with.
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