Synopses & Reviews
Our breath catches and we jump in fear at the sight of a snake. We pause and marvel at the sublime beauty of a sunrise. These reactions are no accident; in fact, many of our human responses to nature are steeped in our deep evolutionary pastand#151;we fear snakes because of the danger of venom or constriction, and we welcome the assurances of the sunrise as the predatory dangers of the dark night disappear. Many of our aesthetic preferencesand#151;from the kinds of gardens we build to the foods we enjoy and the entertainment we seekand#151;are the lingering result of natural selection.
In this ambitious and unusual work, evolutionary biologist Gordon H. Orians explores the role of evolution in human responses to the environment, beginning with why we have emotions and ending with evolutionary approaches to aesthetics. Orians reveals how our emotional lives today are shaped by decisions our ancestors made centuries ago on African savannas as they selected places to live, sought food and safety, and socialized in small hunter-gatherer groups.and#160; During this time our likes and dislikes became wired in our brains, as the appropriate responses to the environment meant the difference between survival or death. His rich analysis explains why we mimic the tropical savannas of our ancestors in our parks and gardens, why we are simultaneously attracted to danger and approach it cautiously, and how paying close attention to natureand#8217;s sounds has resulted in us being an unusually musical species.and#160; We also learn why we have developed discriminating palates for wine, and why we have strong reactions to some odors, and why we enjoy classifying almost everything.
By applying biological perspectives ranging from Darwin to current neuroscience to analyses of our aesthetic preferences for landscapes, sounds, smells, plants, and animals, Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare transforms how we view our experience of the natural world and how we relate to each other.
"A jaunty and insightful
new book...[that] celebrate[s] our compulsion to storify everything around us. —New York Times Sunday Book Review
, Editor's Choice
"[An] insightful yet breezily accessible exploration of the power of storytelling and its ability to shape our lives...[that is] packed with anecdotes and entertaining examples from pop culture." —The Boston Globe
"The Storytelling Animal is informative, but also a lot of fun.... Anyone who has wondered why stories affect us the way they do will find a new appreciation of our collective desire to be spellbound in this fascinating book." BookPage
"Stories are the things that make us human, and this book's absorbing, accessible blend of science and story shows us exactly why." —Minneapolis Star Tribune.
"This is a work of popular philosophy and social theory written by an obviously brilliant undergraduate teacher. The gift for the example is everywhere. A punchy line appears on almost every page." —The San Francisco Chronicle
"A lively pop-science overview of the reasons why we tell stories and why storytelling will endure..[Gottschall's] snapshots of the worlds of psychology, sleep research and virtual reality are larded with sharp anecdotes and jargon-free summaries of current research... Gottschall brings a light tough to knotty psychological matters, and he’s a fine storyteller himself."
"They say we spend multiple hours immersed in stories every day. Very few of us pause to wonder why. Gottschall lays bare this quirk of our species with deft touches, and he finds that our love of stories is its own story, and one of the grandest tales out there—the story of what it means to be human."
—Sam Kean, author of The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements
"Story is not the icing, it’s the cake! Gottschall eloquently tells you ‘how come’ in his well researched new book."
—Peter Guber, CEO, Mandalay Entertainment and author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Tell To Win
"This is a quite wonderful book. It grips the reader with both stories and stories about the telling of stories, then pulls it all together to explain why storytelling is a fundamental human instinct."
—Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor and Honorary Curator in Entomology, Harvard University
"The Storytelling Animal is a delight to read. It's boundlessly interesting, filled with great observations and clever insights about television, books, movies, videogames, dreams, children, madness, evolution, morality, love, and more. And it's beautifully written—fittingly enough, Gottschall is himself a skilled storyteller."
— Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology at Yale and author of How Pleasure Works
"Like the magnificent storytellers past and present who furnish him here with examples and inspiration, Jonathan Gottschall takes a timely and fascinating but possibly forbidding subject — the new brain science and what it can tell us about the human story-making impulse — and makes of it an extraordinary and absorbing intellectual narrative. The scrupulous synthesis of art and science here is masterful; the real-world stakes high; the rewards for the reader numerous, exhilarating, mind-expanding."
— Terry Castle, Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities, Stanford University
andldquo;Gordon Oriansandrsquo;s book provides great insight and understanding of the role of human evolution in our species emotions and behaviors. and#160;It extends his pioneering work in evolutionary biology to many aspects of human activity that includes our preferences, predilections, fears, hopes, and aspirations. and#160;We recognize in this book how our ecological mind has meshed with our cultural and creative selves to produce our distinctive species.andrdquo;
and#8220;No scholar better understands the intimate linkage between evolutionary biology and the human condition, and none has expressed it in a more interesting and well illustrated manner than Orians.and#8221;
and#8220;One of the most interesting and surprising ideas I have ever come across is that what biologists call and#8216;habitat selectionand#8217; is the same as what artists and landscape architects call and#8216;environmental aesthetics.and#8217; The human eye for beauty is not an inexplicable preference for arbitrary shapes and colors but may be explained as an instinct for choosing surroundings that are safe, healthful, and informative. The eminent zoologist Gordon Orians, who originated this powerful idea, now treats us to a cornucopia of hypotheses on why certain things please the eye, ear, and tongue and others terrify, repel, or disgust them. This is a lovely contribution to our understanding of aesthetics and should keep scientists, artists, and humanities scholars debating its ideas for years to come.and#8221;
and#8220; A neat, thought-provoking volume.and#8221;
and#8220;Orians argues that our emotional responses to aesthetics in nature are hardwired and an evolutionary legacy of our animal origins. Here, he explores the relationship between our and#8216;ghosts of environments pastand#8217; and our view of the world.and#8221;
and#8220;Orians has written a concise, thoughtful, and stimulating analysis of the human connectedness to nature and other organisms. Through clear writing and diverse examples, he hypothesizes and demonstrates how various forces markedly affected human evolution and shaped human nature. Readers will be better informed and sensitized regarding who humans are in their lengthy behavioral adaptations and development. . . . Highly recommended.and#8221;
A provocative young scholar gives us the first book on the new science of storytelling: the latest thinking on why we tell stories, what stories reveal about human nature, what makes a story transporting, which plots and themes are universal, and what it means to have a storytelling brain—what are the implications for how we process information and think about the world?
Humans live in landscapes of make-believe: we spin fantasies, we devour novels, films, and plays, and even our sporting events and criminal trials unfold as narratives. Yet the world of story has long remained an undiscovered and unmapped country. Its 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 are a way of rehearsing lifes complex social problems.Our penchant for story has evolved, like other behaviors, to enhance our survival, and, crucially, that of our social group. (In fact, studies show that people who read fiction are more empathetic.) Gottschall explores the deep pattern in childrens make-believe, and what that reveals about storys prehistoric origins. He shows how a story was partly responsible for Hitlers rise, how schizophrenia is an example of the story mind run amok, and how successful fiction is inherently moral. We are master shapers of story. The Storytelling Animal finally reveals how stories shape us.
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. Itand#8217;s easy to say that humans are and#8220;wiredand#8221; 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 lifeand#8217;s complex social problemsand#8212;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 and#8220;truthyand#8221; than true. National myths can also be terribly dangerous: Hitlerand#8217;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 moraland#8212;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.
A NYTimes.com Editor's Choice A Los Angeles Times Book Prizes Finalist
“A jaunty, insightful new book . . . [that] draws from disparate corners of history and science to celebrate our compulsion to storify everything around us.”
—New York Times
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. Now Jonathan Gottschall offers the first unified theory of storytelling. He argues that stories help us navigate lifes 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 and explains how stories can change the world for the better. We know we are master shapers of story. The Storytelling Animal finally reveals how stories shape us.
“This is a quite wonderful book. It grips the reader with both stories and stories about the telling of stories, then pulls it all together to explain why storytelling is a fundamental human instinct.”
—Edward O. Wilson
“Charms with anecdotes and examples . . . we have not left nor should we ever leave Neverland.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer
In this remarkably ambitious and creative work, evolutionary biologist Gordon Orians explores the role of evolution in human responses to the environment. The work starts with chapters dedicated to human emotions and evolutionary approaches to aesthetics. It then looks at how environmental information is gained by humans, and processedand#151;what are the evolutionary mechanisms behind that response to a great white, or a baby deer? Then the fun truly begins. Mr. Orians in chapter 3 looks at landscapes, how we perceive the environs in which we live at larger scales. Chapter 4 explores our emotional responses to danger, and it is followed by a chapter on human-built natureand#151;gardens, parks. The closing chapters consider biodiversity and classification, and the role of emotions in our responses to the environment. By looking at human aesthetic preferences (for landscapes, sounds, smells, plants, animals, etc.) through a biological lens (which ranges from Darwin to current neuroscience), our experience of the natural world is wholly illuminated.
About the Author
Jonathan Gottschall teaches English at Washington & Jefferson College and is one of the leading figures in the movement toward a more scientific humanities. The author or editor of five scholarly books, Gottschalls work has been prominently featured in the New York Times Magazine, Scientific American, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, among others. Steven Pinker has called him "a brilliant young scholar" whose writing is "unfailingly clear, witty, and exciting."
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Whistling for HoneyChapter 2.Ghosts of the African SavannaChapter 3. The High Cost of LearningChapter 4. Reading the LandscapeChapter 5. The Snake in the Grass ( . . . and Other Hazards)Chapter 6. Settling Down and Settling InChapter 7. A Ransom in PepperChapter 8.The Musical ApeChapter 9. The First SniffChapter 10. Ordering NatureChapter 11. The Honeyguide and the Snake: Embracing Our Ecological MindsAcknowledgmentsNotesIllustration CreditsIndex