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Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  4,835 ratings  ·  587 reviews
The act of reading is a miracle. Every new reader's brain possesses the extraordinary capacity to rearrange itself beyond its original abilities in order to understand written symbols. But how does the brain learn to read? As world-renowned cognitive neuroscientist and scholar of reading Maryanne Wolf explains in this impassioned book, we taught our brain to read only a fe ...more
Hardcover, 308 pages
Published September 4th 2007 by Harper (first published 2007)
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3.80  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,835 ratings  ·  587 reviews

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Manuel Antão
May 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2018
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Bone-in Meat Without the Meat: "Proust and the Squid" by Maryanne Wolf

“Will the split-second immediacy of information gained from a search engine and the sheer volume of what is available derail the slower, more deliberative processes that deepen our understanding of complex concepts, of another's inner thought processes, and of our own consciousness?"

In “Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf”
Why wouldn't Amazon publish the ebook I
Feb 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, favorites
This is a book I frequently return to, checking facts, and reminding myself what a wondrous thing reading actually is.

Maryanne Wolf masters the difficult balance between an enjoyable book full of anecdotes and a sound scientific research on the processes of the brain while reading. I was fascinated by the several pages long description of what happens in my head while I read just ONE SENTENCE. After I had finished the description, I went back and reread the section (it took about 20 minutes), a
Dec 28, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Parents of Children With Dyslexia
We may never fly in a hot-air balloon, win a race with a hare, or dance with a prince until the stroke of midnight, but through stories in books we can learn what it feels like. In this process we step outside ourselves for ever-lengthening moments and begin to understand the "other," which Marcel Proust wrote lies at the heart of communication through written language.

OK. Well. *sips coffee* Let's have at it.

First off, I want to say that this book really has fuck-all to do with Proust, or squid
Aug 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
There are many things in life that need to be explained. One of those things is why is it that some people learn to read as if reading was like breathing or like fish taking to water, while others can struggle for decades and still only read haltingly and even then never quite ‘get’ what it is they are reading? I know that looks like two things – actually, a moment’s reflection might make you think that what needs to be explained isn’t one or two things, but rather many, many more. Perhaps as ma ...more
Will Byrnes
I found the beginning of the book fascinating, offering new (to me) information about the beginning of written language, how it takes different forms depending on whether it is picture-like or not, noting differences between languages that were representative of sounds or of things. Fascinating stuff. It was news to me that Socrates railed against the spread of written language, believing that spreading a way for many people to gain knowledge would have a net negative effect on the ability of pe ...more
Jan 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is an interesting book, organized in three sections. In the first section, Maryanne Wolf describes how the human race developed reading (and writing, of course). Symbols denoting words evolved into symbols denoting syllables and then individual sounds, as letters. As Wolf reiterates, this evolution took 2,000 years, yet a child learns to read in 2,000 days. The development of an alphabet was a strikingly innovative concept. Scholars do not agree on the definition of an alphabet, and by some ...more
"My major conclusion from an examination of the developing reader is a cautionary one. I fear that many of our children are in danger of becoming just what Socrates warned us against - a society of decoders of information, whose false sense of knowing distracts them from a deeper development of their intellectual potential. It does not need to be so, if we teach them well..." p.226

"Socrates feared above all else that the 'semblance of truth,' conveyed by the seeming permanence of this written la
Feb 13, 2010 rated it it was ok
*Weak*, dude.

A handful of reviewers here mentioned that Wolf's writing is too difficult and technical for layfolk. On the other hand, the writing wasn't research-based enough; one reviewer mentioned that Wolf "seemed more interested in linguistics lite rather than delving into the brain processes". I agree on both counts, though the latter was the one that stuck out to me. Wolf's writing isn't good enough to stand alone without knowing her audience.

I would have liked either a good, widely access
Peter Mcloughlin
Most of the people on goodreads are engaging in unnatural acts and it's a good thing. While speaking and understanding oral language is very natural, reading is highly unnatural for humans. It is a skill we only acquired in the last 5000 years. It is an add on we give to our children through the education system. This book is a book about reading (very meta) and how it developed in the last 5000 years. It is also about how children pick up this unnatural and beautiful skill that not only opens u ...more
Sep 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
I learned a lot from Maryanne Wolf's history of reading, starting with the meaning of the title: The squid taught us (in the 1950s) how neurons fire and transmit to each other and gave later scientists the wherewithal to become neuroscientists. Proust saw reading as a way for humans to discover myriad realities, to go where no man has gone before (at least until Captain Kirk arrived on the scene!)

The book begins with a short history of writing systems, starting with the first, which was in reali
Steve Kettmann
Mar 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
At times the book probably delved deeper into the science than I as a general read would have preferred, and the emphasis on dyslexia was at times distracting - but no question, a fascinating, valuable book. For two points alone I'd recommended it: One, Wolf's fluent, intelligent consideration of Socrates' opposition to the development of written language, which he feared would have an adverse affect on the imaginative capacity of the educated. Two, the whole notion that read books actually rewi ...more
What I Learned From This Book: Alphabetic systems of writing are much more evolved and efficient than ideographic systems, and therefore "our" brains are Wired Differently from The Chinese. And that "we" all grew up reading Twain and Austen and Proust. Also, the internetz are destroying literacy and creating a new generation of people who are unable to read or memorise anything, I mean real reading and real memorisation, like we did in the old days. We know this because if we ask children how ma ...more
Aug 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-read, 2018-reads
I first read this in 2007 when it was published, and I'm re-reading it this week before I get a copy of Wolf's new book, Reader, Come Home. I also want to refresh my memory with regard to Wolf's thoughts on dyslexia. For a while I've been concerned that my seven-year old niece still cannot read, and I really think she may be dyslexic. Neither her parents nor, apparently, her teachers, are overly concerned that she is behind grade level in reading, because she is quite precocious in all other are ...more
Aug 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Literacy folks
Recommended to Jon by: Linda Gambrell (at the U of A Literacy Symposium)
Wolfe convincingly layers the story of reading disabilities on top of the story of the development of the reading brain and the story of language itself. Her conclusions are similar (but more thorough and more effectively supported) to those drawn by Davis and Braun in The Gift of Dyslexia.

I learned from the middle section of the book that neurologists believe the human brain was never wired specifically for the task of reading. That means that in order to read, each individual's brain must bui
May Ling
Aug 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Summary: This book is great. There are a lot of haters. Those people likely have reading problems (argument supported below). Well done Wolf. I caught only 1 thing that I blanched at briefly.

Most of the arguments against this book have to do with people who felt stupid, while reading it. One person failed to even read the subtitle and chided Wolf on the book having nothing to do with Proust and the Squid. Others felt the book to technical. It's rather technical, but perfect for what I'm researc
Nelson Zagalo
Nov 08, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: academic, non-fiction
An interesting book divided in three great sections: history, learning and pathologies. The first one is the most fascinating, because Wolf digs deep into the history of reading, questioning some of our basic assumptions of today's daily lives. In the second one Wolf works around the human brain changes produced by the learning to read, and in the last one she gives an account of the problems surrounding dislexia.

The first half is highly enjoying, however throughout the explanation of our readin
Jan 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Despite the exciting-sounding title, this is actually a book about the science of how we read. Unfortunately, it’s been a while since I read it and the review I wrote then is one of the reviews that I seem to have lost in the ether, but I do remember finding it generally entertaining, though I wished at times there were more citations so I could go and read more about the things Wolf claims.

One thing I really want to look up is the results of the study into AAVE (African-American Vernacular Engl
I was really looking forward to this one and while I did find it really interesting, it was also a little to detailed/technical in places which made it a little harder to follow, especially as there was no glossary or footnotes to clarify these points. I'm sure if I was more familiar with the study of languages this wouldn't have been a problem but as a science nerd, languages are not my strong point. That aside I did enjoy the bits I could follow, which was a large majority of the book, and the ...more
Nov 26, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This delightful title hides the book on the reading brain. Proust and the Squid- the Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Marianne Wolff is the full title, and the book is quite good. It has sections on history of different scripts and languages, an extensive one on reading development, research into the neurophysiology of the reading brain, comparisons of the reading brain vs. non-reading brain, reading disabilities and the future of reading.
Here are some points I jotted down after reading
Jul 07, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
Despite the potentially fascinating premise (that subtitle!), this was duller than dishwater. It read like a meta-analysis of the current scientific literature. It was also very repetitive; the two main points (that reading is an act that the brain must learn by fusing together many unrelated areas and that the brains of people who read different languages use very different areas) were interesting, but repeated constantly and not really enough to carry a whole book. Sadly disappointing.
My brain freaks me out. I find idea that the essence of my self, my thoughts--from those that poke sleeping dragons to the ones that net purses--are the transmission of chemicals and the firing of electrical impulses to be, in turns, horrific and mortifying. The brain is the squishiest, messiest, most stomach turning of all the squicky, unclean, vomit-inducing biological facts of human existence. So kudos to Maryanne Wolf for writing a book about the brain that I could actually read.

In this boo
Jun 11, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wolf's book operates under the belief that reading is not an innate function of the human brain. She argues that speech (assuming that there is not any evidence of pathology) is picked up automatically by anyone exposed to it. The ability to read, however, is a completely different matter. One can be surrounded by text and never learn to read. So how and when did the brain 'learn' how to read? Woolf attempts to answer such a question by looking at more visually oriented writing systems (think: h ...more
Nov 22, 2008 rated it it was ok
I was really excited about this book. And then I started reading it. It is so bogged down in technical terminology and repetition that exciting parts get lost. And, frankly, I got bored. That almost never happens when it comes to books. But I did. I got bored.
Proust and the Squid. It had been on my radar for a long time. So had thousands of other books. It was easy to ignore. But when it turned up on my reading chair, a gift from my husband who had tired of it after the scientific discussions of brain functions, sporting a book mark only fifty pages in, I decided it was time. So. Off I went.

I read reviews that said Wolfe’s intent, to make the mysteries of learning to read accessible to the general public, fell short. I’ll say. I’m NOT the general pub
Jun 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: readers
Shelves: brain, science
This book deals with the evolution and mechanics of the reading brain, an absolutely fascinating topic. I did not know until I reading this that the human brain is not set up for the process of decoding letters and phonemes. It has had to develop intricate synaptic pathways utilizing many different parts of the brain in order to cope.

The earliest symbolic representations were clay tokens, and knotted ropes. We then move on to cunieform and hieroglyphics, which made for more diversity, but limit
Kivrin Engle
Jul 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I found this book fascinating and delightful. It resonated with me for different reasons: I am a fierce, avid, reading woman, who learned to read easily at an early age. I absolutely adore reading. I have raised two children who also love to read. And, I am an educator, who teaches reading to students with learning disabilities.

“There once was a beautiful bear who sat on a seat near to breaking and read by the hearth about how the earth was created. She smiled beatifically, full of ideas for th
Laura Frey (Reading in Bed)
I liked it, but, if I didn't have two kids learning how to read right now, I would have DNF'd. Just too dense and academic to get into, despite a couple of key insights and fascinating chapters that blew me away. Some of those key insights:
-Humans did not evolve to read or write. Spoken language doesn't have to be taught, it's encoded in our genes. Written language has to be learned from scratch every time. It also took humans like 2000 years to create the kind of written language we have now, e
Feb 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
Proust and the Squid is a surprisingly tendentious book masquerading as a review of the science of reading. It describes how our brains have changed as a result of learning to read, and what happens to dyslexic brains when they try to read. The science seems sound for some of it, especially how our brains work now, and the differences between English-speaking brains, say, and Chinese-speaking brains. But the rest of it reads like a Just-So Story -- the scientific theory created to explain how we ...more
Oct 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I found this book totally fascinating. It’s the first book I’ve read on this subject and I found a lot of new information in it. For one: our brains aren’t designed for reading. We have no mechanisms in our brains that are adapted to reading. As we read and absorb and consider and understand, our brain pathways actually change.
There are three parts to this book: the history of the written language, how we learn to read and the changes that occur in our brains and a section on the various types
Roberta Almeida
Jul 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an amazing read. I learned so much, I feel like my brain is going great explode. I'm so glad I read this.
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Maryanne Wolf received her doctorate from Harvard University in the Department of Human Development and Psychology in the Graduate School of Education, where she began her work on the neurological underpinnings of reading, language, and dyslexia. Professor Wolf was awarded the Distinguished Professor of the Year Award from the Massachusetts Psychological Association, and also the Teaching Excellen ...more
“When we pass over into how a knight thinks, how a heroine behaves, and how an evildoer can regret or deny wrongdoing, we never come back quite the same; sometimes we're inspired, sometimes saddened, but we are always enriched. Through this exposure we learn both the commonality and the uniqueness of our own thoughts -- that we are individuals, but not alone.” 4 likes
“There are few more powerful mirrors of the human brain's astonishing ability to rearrange itself to learn a new intellectual function than the act of reading. Underlying the brain's ability to learn reading lies its protean capacity to make new connections among structures and circuits originally devoted to other more basic brain processes that have enjoyed a longer existence in human evolution, such as vision and spoken language. [...] we come into the world programmed with the capacity to change what is given to us by nature, so that we can go beyond it. We are, it would seem from the start, genetically poised for breakthroughs.” 2 likes
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