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The Storytelling Animal

How Stories Make Us Human

This book can be downloaded and read in iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.


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.

From Publishers Weekly

Dec 19, 2011 – This at times cloying and circular extended essay parts sociology, anthropology, psychology, and literary criticism seeks to answer one of those sticky questions about human nature: why do we have a fundamental need for story? For Gottschall, who teaches English at Washington & Jefferson College, story serves an evolutionary purpose; it s hard-wired into our brains. Story creation, like dreaming, helps us judge wrongdoing. It is also how we practice the human skills of social life even if we don t consciously remember the story and its lessons. Gottschall interprets story broadly: even the vagaries of memory are a form of fictionalization: false memories show how one s past, like one s future, is a realm of fantasy for which we are hard-wired. But Gottschall s evolutionary argument is circular: we are hard-wired for fiction because it is good for us; and we are drawn to fiction because our brains are wired for it. Yet if the argument and approach are scattershot, the writing can be engaging. 74 photos.

Customer Reviews

Absolutely brilliant

I defy anyone to read this guy's Preface and not instantly BUY the book. I was laughing so hard I nearly choked. JUST from the Preface! And the rest of it is just a riot of great writing, terrific insights, and thought-provoking connections about the way that stories and dreams and myths have so carefully shaped human existence. I was in a thrall through the entire thing, a complete delight. I wish I could meet the author, shake his hand, and say, "Thank you." I guess this will have to do.

Creatures of Story

We are all creatures of story and he does such an amazing job painting a vivid picture of how that is so. There are many little golden nuggets hidden away in this writing that have blown my mind and furthered the way I think on things in relation to story.

I am absolutely drawn towards story and this was a great first read as I discover more. This shows the foundational ideas behind story and why we as society are drawn to it.


Great book, great read!

The Storytelling Animal
View in iTunes
  • $9.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Life Sciences
  • Published: Apr 23, 2013
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Seller: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company
  • Print Length: 272 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.5 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

Customer Ratings