03 February 2012

Book (P)Review: The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human

Jonathan Gottschall has written an extremely interesting and captivating book in The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human.  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, advertisements, songs, conspiracy theories 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. 

Did you know, for example, that according to one study "heavy fiction readers had better social skills--as measured by tests of social and empathic ability--than those who mainly read nonfiction"? (I'm curious to know if readers overall have the same relative abilities compared to non-readers...)

This is by far the most compelling non-narrative nonfiction I've read in simply ages, and what's more, it should be required reading for every single reader and writer out there. 

NB: This book will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in April 2012 and I received a copy at Winter Institute. It also happens to qualify for my third book of the year for the New Authors Reading Challenge for 2012, hosted by Literary Escapism.


  1. This sounds very interesting - I wonder if there is an evolutionary explanation for why story is so important to us? Is it to do with memory and information in story form being easier to retain?

  2. Darn it, I need this book right now! I'm doing research on Zora Neale Hurston and trying to defend her against the criticism she received for using folklore in her fiction. She was criticized for negatively stereotyping African Americans. But you see, folklore is our story. Our story is not a stereotype. Our story is us. Darn it! Okay, back to my Zora reading now. I'm dawdling on book blogs when I should be researching.

  3. Thank you for this very generous review of my book (I haven't had much feedback on it yet, so it's a relief to know that you liked it). I just wanted to say, in response to one of the comments, that the book does indeed address some of the big questions about the (possible) evolutionary functions of storytelling. If anyone would like a small taste of the book, they can read an excerpt on my website, www.jonathangottschall.com
    Best wishes,
    Jonathan Gottschall

  4. I too agree that this is one of the best non-fiction narratives I've read in a while. From my perspective, I'm always glad to find a "story" in this format. So many of my students these days don't read...anything. I'm also thankful though to find out story comes from so many places in our world. Very cool indeed :)


Please, sir, may I have some more? (Comments, that is!)