How Stories Make Us Human
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
On Sale: April 10, 2012
Hardcover / e-Book
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Humans live in landscapes of make-believe. We spin
fantasies. We devour novels, films, and plays. Even sporting
events and criminal trials unfold as narratives. Yet the
world of story has long remained an undiscovered and
unmapped country. It’s easy to say that humans are “wired”
for story, but why?
In this delightful and original book, Jonathan Gottschall
offers the first unified theory of storytelling. He argues
that stories help us navigate life’s complex social
problems—just as flight simulators prepare pilots for
difficult situations. Storytelling has evolved, like other
behaviors, to ensure our survival.
Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology,
and evolutionary biology, Gottschall tells us what it means
to be a storytelling animal. Did you know that the more
absorbed you are in a story, the more it changes your
behavior? That all children act out the same kinds of
stories, whether they grow up in a slum or a suburb? That
people who read more fiction are more empathetic?
Of course, our story instinct has a darker side. It makes us
vulnerable to conspiracy theories, advertisements, and
narratives about ourselves that are more “truthy” than true.
National myths can also be terribly dangerous: Hitler’s
ambitions were partly fueled by a story.
But as Gottschall shows in this remarkable book, stories can
also change the world for the better. Most successful
stories are moral—they teach us how to live, whether
explicitly or implicitly, and bind us together around common
values. We know we are master shapers of story. The
Storytelling Animal finally reveals how stories shape us.
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