The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
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The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human

3.63 of 5 stars 3.63  ·  rating details  ·  1,436 ratings  ·  253 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...more
Hardcover, 248 pages
Published April 10th 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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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...more
Zack Rock
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
Shelley
I don’t think I’ve ever so enjoyed a book with which I have such fundamental disagreement. In The Storytelling Animal Jonathan Gottschall explores the centrality and ubiquity of storytelling in human civilizations—what he calls, “the deep mysteriousness of Story.” As an atheist, Gottschall is endlessly curious about why evolution seems to have privileged storytellers, even though, at first glance, stories appear to have little practical benefit, especially in societies in which one’s primary bur...more
Andrea McDowell
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...more
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...more
Tristan Yi
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...more
Emily Crowe
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
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...more
Michael
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
Newengland
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
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
Tracy
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...more
Damian
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...more
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...more
Ryan
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...more
Amy
May 21, 2012 Amy rated it 3 of 5 stars
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
Martha Burns
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!
Juan
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...more
Dawn
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...more
Penelope
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...more
Robert Bidinotto
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...more
Constantine
Easy read....definitley non-academic. Breezy, but to me,at any rate, an entertaining and simultaneously thought provoking exploration of the role of story in human development. Story telling, as viewed by Gottschall,is the fundamental structuring mechanism that enables our human brain to negotiate a chaotic and meaningless universe, this fictive power is an evolutionary neurological response that imposes a workable lie or fiction that is, ultimately, a means for enhancing our chances for surviva...more
Deb
**The story behind story**

Jonathan Gottschall’s book beautifully narrates the story behind story. Enthralling, engrossing, and engaging, this plot of the book reveals how story is far more than just a source of entertainment and escape. Story is core to our human essence and has heroically been rescuing us with its evolutionary, neurological, social, psychological, and existential advantages since the beginning of time.

As Gottschall summarizes:
“Humans are creatures of Neverland. Neverland is ou...more
Cheryl
I'm having trouble deciding what this book is actually about. It covers a lot of ground, and I think that is one of the problems I'm having with it. Even though the book is listed at 248 pages, only 199 pages are actual text. The rest of the book is notes,a bibliography, acknowledgments, credits and an index.

The first few chapters cover the history of storytelling, the puzzle as to why it dominates human culture across the ages, always with the same components, and scientific studies. Lot of go...more
Susanna
This proved to be quite a delightful read. The subject material and arguments covered are certainly fascinating, and Gottschall, through his quotes and supporting evidence, is clearly well-read both in this subject and in a more general sense. I did not expect the heavy dependence upon psychology, but it was well-explained and actually provided a great supplement to the psychology course I am currently taking. The evolutionary biology approach to explaining the purpose(s) of storytelling was als...more
Aimee
I am an avid reader and love to get swept up in a story so I was excited to read this book about storytelling by Jonathan Gottschall. I was not disappointed, it is a great book about how are lives are shaped by stories. I was expecting a book that discussed different stories found in books but Gottschall made me see that there are stories all around us, not just the ones found in books. He talks about a wide variety of stories found in our culture today including books, movies, tv shows (even re...more
Steve
Jonathan Gottshcall discusses why stories are so pervasive in our lives, in a well written, compelling book that explores the science, history, and future of stories and storytelling. Among other things, the book covers why children and adults create and consume fiction, the science of dreams, the role of stories in influencing (and defining) history, and what technology means for the future of stories. Not just full of interesting facts, many chapters start out in the manner of a compelling sto...more
Amy
About how humans are "wired" for story. Overall, this book did not live up to my expectations. There were some interesting parts (such as how our mirror neurons fire when we experience story to help us form neural pathways that lead to "skillful navigation of life's problems.", or how our mind "fills in the gaps" when we are presented with incomplete information - testament to its storytelling impulse, how memory is a vulnerable to suggestion [examples of planing memories like meeting Bugs Bunny...more
Bill M
This was an interesting overview but I agree with other reviewers that it didn't seem to offer much new. In addition, there were times when the analysis seemed superficial. For example, on page 96, he talks about "...split-brain patients were a boon to neuroscience. Thanks largely to these patients, scientists were able to isolate and study the workings of the two hemispheres of the brain. They discovered that the left brain is specialized..." He suggests that 1962 was a breakthrough year in the...more
David
A bit slow and wordy but an interesting subject. I did like the example of why, of 2 different groups, the one that dominated is the story telling group over the group that opts to work more. I had the 5CD version and enjoyed it driving to and from work. Gottschall brought in quite a few observations that were interesting and that I had not previously considered. Always good to learn
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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...more
More about Jonathan Gottschall...
The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative The Rape of Troy: Evolution, Violence, and the World of Homer Literature, Science, and a New Humanities The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch Graphing Jane Austen (Cognitive Studies in Literature and Performance)

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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.” 25 likes
“Commentators frequently blame MMORPGs for an increasing sense of isolation modern life. But virtual worlds are less a cause of that isolation than a response to it. Virtual worlds give back what has been scooped out of modern life. The virtual world is in important ways more authentically human than the real world. It gives us back community, a feeling of competence, and a sense of being an important person whom people depend on.” 2 likes
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