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The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human

3.64  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,212 Ratings  ·  340 Reviews
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
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Hardcover, 248 pages
Published April 10th 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Glenn Russell
Jan 30, 2016 Glenn Russell rated it it was amazing

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 TELLING

I’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
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Zack Rock
Aug 02, 2012 Zack Rock rated it did not like it
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 ...more
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
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
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Michael
Aug 16, 2012 Michael rated it did not like it
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 ...more
Andrea McDowell
Jan 15, 2016 Andrea McDowell rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, brain-stuff
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
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Ryan
Jul 25, 2012 Ryan rated it it was ok
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
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Ken
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 ...more
Tristan Yi
Feb 17, 2014 Tristan Yi rated it really liked it
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
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Emily Crowe
Sep 03, 2014 Emily Crowe rated it liked it
Shelves: 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 ...more
Gordon
May 14, 2013 Gordon rated it it was amazing
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
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Jenny (Reading Envy)
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
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Juan
Feb 25, 2013 Juan rated it it was ok
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
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Orsolya
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); ...more
Julie Davis
Nov 08, 2015 Julie Davis rated it liked it
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.

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 mad
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Tracy
May 27, 2012 Tracy rated it really liked it
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
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Damian
Jul 06, 2012 Damian rated it it was amazing
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
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Tripp
Oct 16, 2013 Tripp added it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
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Arto Bendiken
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
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John Kaufmann
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 ...more
Amy
May 21, 2012 Amy rated it liked it
Shelves: 2012
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 ...more
Blair
May 17, 2015 Blair rated it really liked it
This is a very interesting book about how stories help define us and indeed the societies we live in. It was also interesting in describing the universal use of stories as well as the fact that stories are all centered around trouble and helping overcome trouble.

Jonathan Gottschall explains that we use stories, and particularly fiction, to help simulate dealing with life's troubles - the way a flight simulator helps fighter pilots land on aircraft carriers. As such, storytelling is very similar
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Martha Burns
May 30, 2012 Martha Burns rated it really liked it
This is about the role narrative--specifically, stories with a beginning, middle, and end in which good fights evil--play in human consciousness. Gottschall discusses dream logic (we make it out of random data, so whatever to Freud), the existence of conspiracy theories (when our narrative impulse gets all OCD), and the role narratives play in not so much subverting, but reinforcing social norms. I liked it!
Jim Peterson
Jan 12, 2016 Jim Peterson rated it liked it
Shelves: english, non-fiction
NON-FICTION ON THE TOPIC OF FICTION

This book went well with The Story Factor Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion through the Art of Storytelling by Annette Simmons. It provided some background info on how and why stories are so influential in shaping people's opinions, thoughts, philosophy, etc.

It is not an academic book, though it is academ-ish. The author provides enough factoids to make it interesting, but not enough to make the book a useful reference for any academic purposes.

Another reviewer said it best (I paraphrase): It's just a couple hundred pages of a guy fangeeking over literature a
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Justina
Oct 16, 2015 Justina rated it it was amazing
I actually am sad I finished the book. I thought I had more interesting, thought-provoking insights waiting for me. Unfortunately Chapter 9 was the last, and I was deceived by the enormous acknowledgement section.

Overall however, I think this is the first school "textbook" that I actually didn't want to put down. I am a fiction lover myself (as you all know), but I was fascinated by the research and studies that told us about us, the storytelling animals. From dreams, to mental illness, memory
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Elliot Little
Apr 20, 2016 Elliot Little rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Somewhere in this book, the author makes a good point, maybe even a couple. However, there's so much unnecessary nonsense, any points he hoped to make are buried.
Rachel Nabors
Jul 10, 2014 Rachel Nabors rated it did not like it
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 ...more
Dawn
May 21, 2013 Dawn rated it really liked it
This was a really fascinating book where Gottschall discussed the central role stories play in the lives of humans such as evolutionary process, the simulation model where stories act as virtual reality technology, the story telling mind's role in conspiracy theories, dreams, regulating social activities and ethics and books that have changed the world.

For me, the most interesting aspect of the book was the discussion of the power stories have to change us as we experience stories as if they are
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Caren
Sep 02, 2012 Caren rated it liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
I really enjoyed this light-hearted little book. At just 200 pages, it's an easy, fun read with quite a few well-chosen illustrations to enliven the text. As a professor of English, the author is immersed in story for his work. He shows us, however, that we are all creatures of story: it's our human condition. He asks the question of why humans need stories, given that evolution is so apparently utilitarian (pg. 24). He presents some theories about the purpose of stories, but offers that it coul ...more
Penelope
Apr 07, 2012 Penelope rated it really liked it
I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

3.5 stars

I really enjoyed this book, although it went in quite a different direction than I expected. I was expecting more of a linear scientific examination of...well...how stories make us human. However, I made that assumption based on a pretty narrow definition of what "story" is. Gottschall's definition of story is broad, ranging from novels, to religion, to the narratives inside our heads about our day to day lives--essentially any
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Robert Bidinotto
Jan 31, 2013 Robert Bidinotto rated it it was amazing
As both a nonfiction author and a bestselling novelist, I’ve pondered certain puzzles for decades.

Why do people find certain ideologies and philosophies appealing, but not others? Why do we so often hold to our points of view dogmatically, intractable to all facts, reason, and logic? What is the source of dreams? Why do certain common myths seem to be indelible and universal, across cultures and throughout history? Why does music conjure in us mental imagery? What is the key to the kind of motiv
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Jonathan Gottschall is an American literary scholar, the leading younger figure in literature and evolution. He teaches at Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania. He completed graduate work in English at State University of New York at Binghamton, where he worked under David Sloan Wilson.

His work The Rape of Troy: Evolution, Violence and the World of Homer describes the Homeric epic poem
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“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.” 53 likes
“Memories are often pruned and shaped by an ego-enhancing bias that blurs the edges of past events, softens culpability, and distorts what really happened.” 4 likes
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