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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2012 Jonathan Gottschall (P)2012 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"Gottschall brings a light touch to knotty psychological matters, and he's a fine storyteller himself." ( Kirkus Reviews)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Carole T.
  • 04-10-2012

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night...

We humans crave narratives. From ancient fire circles to books to radio and movies to TV sets, headphones, and computers, "story is the glue of human social life."

This short listen may not bring to light any really new concepts, but it offers interesting examples of how we use stories for education, entertainment, and reassurance that there is meaning in life. Gottschall also alerts us to reasons why we should be aware that this tendency also opens us up to the possibility of misinterpreting and being manipulated. We long for patterns and reasons - can conspiracy theories be far behind?

I especially enjoyed the discussion about ways in which new technologies are changing how we tell and experience stories -- from so-called "reality" shows to interactive and role-playing computer games.

The narrator is OK, but I wonder why he felt he had to deliver some quotes in quite bizarre accents. The book starts slowly but picks up in energy and interest as it goes along. I think most people interested in books and psychology will enjoy it.



12 of 12 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Diane
  • 14-04-2013

Making Sense of Life Through Stories

If you stop to think about it, stories are the framework around which we build our understanding of reality--whether the stories revolve around history, religion, myth, nationality, science, gaming, drama, fiction or our own lives.

This is Gottschall's premise and he makes his case pretty convincingly. The book does drag in parts and significant sections consist of summaries of materials covered in more depth in other books. However, unlike some other reviewers, I particularly enjoyed the sections on brain science and the role story plays in our dreams, in mental illness and in the development of human culture. In one example, the author contends that at root, the malaise of depression is the loss of our own story and the effectiveness of talk therapy is in helping us to rebuild our own personal narratives. Although the author doesn't take this step, one might argue that whenever a story loses its vitality, whether it is the story of a nation, culture or religion, it is only a matter of time before the demise of that institution inevitably follows.

Not surprisingly perhaps given his premise, the best parts of this book are in the stories. Narration is sub-par particularly when the narrator ineptly (and distractingly) attempts various accents.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • BLJ
  • 06-08-2018

An okay book, an okay narration

I learned quite a bit from the book, but it needed more depth and more scholarly context.

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Irrational Rob
  • 01-07-2018

Did it answer the provocation of the title? Meh

weakly referenced. was expecting a more scholarly text with theory and practical examples. not sure what it was attempting to do in the end.

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  • Erich Weyant
  • 14-05-2018

Interesting overview of story

The book provides a quick look at the history and theory of story, along with an overview of current research. It’s worth it if you are looking for an introduction into this topic. The absolute worst aspect of the audio was the readers aggravating habit of launching into half baked aspects when quoting from other works. Dreadful. Just stop.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 28-12-2017

interesting for sure

some really top notch chapters. some chapters a little more ordinary. And not overly lengthy.

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  • Jeremy
  • 24-09-2017

Deep research, well delivered.

Fairly mind-blowing insights. All arguments well laid out. Will certainly recommend it to others.

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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Amin
  • 14-12-2016

Actually liked it

This book have definitely some worthy points, but overall it may be a lil smaller. Although I don't agree on everything, the book is worth reading, for a couple of really important points.

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  • Jim Foley
  • 07-12-2015

A nice thesis, some new stuff, not difficult

Would you listen to The Storytelling Animal again? Why?

Possibly, since it had some good examples and anecdotes, and the central ideas seemed valuable to me.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

Simple thesis with a lot of good examples.

Any additional comments?

Kept my interest while walking in the woods; a couple of good afternoons.

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  • thedrivein
  • 01-10-2015

A seductive title

What would have made The Storytelling Animal better?

I have a deep, longstanding curiosity about story. This book did nothing to feed that thirst.

What could Jonathan Gottschall have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

I feel this book laid out all the precepts but never delivered on the marketing. Maybe thats the brilliance of a story that its physics can't captured.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

Its length

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  • Alek
  • 01-02-2016

Exciting but not extremely practical

The book is full of interesting facts and research, stories and reasons for them to exist. But it is hard to draw something practically useful from the book. This could be because I needed a kind of more practical guide on storytelling but not reasoning about why stories exist and how they evolve.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Nicholas
  • 17-05-2013

Interesting angle.

This is an interesting book and looks at the human need for stories from a variety of angles which I enjoyed. The reason I dropped an overall star was because at times it feels terribly overwritten. It felt as though the editor told Jonathan Gottschall that each chapter had to be this long. Although having made his point in each chapter, the author noticed he hadn't reached the word count then padded it out. I may be wrong, but it felt that way.
Secondly, I have to mention the reader. Please, whoever directs or produces these books, do not let them do accents unless they are competent. In this case the accents the reader attempts (for no obvious reason aside from the fact that they are referring to English writer etc) are dreadful and totally detract from the importance of what he is reading.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Brenda
  • 13-04-2013

The value of using stories

As a trainer, I am aware of the value of using stories to deliver a message. Stories do seem to generate more interest and, as people 'lean toward' the story, they also lean toward the storyteller. When I use stories, I notice that people seem to 'get it'. They also seem to then generate their own stories, to help them create something meaningful. This book can be a useful starting point to learning how stories may help you get your message across. It is generally agreed that stories 'stick' and are remembered and repeated more easily. This book is certainly worth a listen.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 10-08-2018

Mostly banalities

If you're minimally informed about psychology there's isn't much in this book. I didn't find it interesting and I don't much recommend it.

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  • Mossias
  • 16-07-2018

Delightful, but somewhat repetitive.

a wonderful read, truly a must read for any aspiring story teller, out to understand his craft and its ancient origins.
could be sometimes beating too much on a topic, but still, great book.

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  • Rturn
  • 02-05-2018

A fun listen and informative

An accessible whistle stop tour of our species’ obsession with stories.
Covers literature, other media, games, therapy and religion.
Mentions some of the major players in empirical research in this field.