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The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  5,015 ratings  ·  735 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
Hardcover, 248 pages
Published April 10th 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Average rating 3.71  · 
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Glenn Russell
Jan 30, 2016 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:


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
Jan 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Zack Rock
Aug 02, 2012 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
Andrea McDowell
Feb 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: brain-stuff, science
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
Jun 30, 2012 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
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
Nov 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: red
Jonathan Gottschall is that most suspect of liberal arts majors, the one who wants to apply Science to his chosen field. In particular, evolution. It is not necessarily an idea which is widely endorsed by his peers, I suspect, but I think he is on to something. The real question I had after reading this book, was whether he had taken it far enough.

Gottschall's thesis is, if I can do violence to it by condensing a book into a paragraph, that humans are storytelling animals, in the same way that b
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
Aug 16, 2012 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

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
May 14, 2013 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
Emily Crowe
Jan 22, 2012 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
Javier Lorenzana
Mar 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: to-see, to-be, to-think
We are the Storytelling Animal: lost in neverland, dressed up in costume, always pretending.

I find this book's metaphysical and ontological implications provoking. In the same way that we perceive our existence in terms of time, our understanding of reality is bounded by story. For example, we develop self-knowledge by weaving narratives out of largely fictionalized memories and understand facts about the world in terms of context and causality.

In this sense, it seems that stories are imperati
Son Tung
Mar 13, 2018 rated it liked it
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
Tristan Yi
Apr 06, 2012 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
Rachel Nabors
Jul 10, 2014 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
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
Illuminating and thought-provoking, I found this to be a very interesting read. I will re-read it in time, and may look for other books by this author. His points ring true and just like I can find a face in just about any textured or painted wall, I can just about also find a story in the barest of sentences.

This non-fiction book packed full of theories may be your jam, too, if you wonder about mankind's brain and why you love stories. There's a reason, and you come by it honestly.

4 stars, livi
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
Feb 21, 2013 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
Julie Davis
Nov 06, 2015 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. 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
Jul 06, 2012 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
May 21, 2012 rated it liked it
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
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
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
Olha Khilobok
Jan 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
easy to read

very comprehendible

perfect knowledge for those who strive to dig deep into anthropology of storytelling
Ying Ying
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.
Dec 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Exactly what it seemed before I opened it, this book is a collection of ideas, studies, experiments, essays (maybe?) about how delusional humans are when it comes to perceiving stories, whether we are absorbing them from TV, books, games, other people etc, or blurting them out to others or even ourselves.

It's a great starting point for further studies about our brain and how it distorts information and tricks us all the damn time.

Don't expect to come out with one fully grown idea from reading
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!
May 27, 2012 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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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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