The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human

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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 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 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
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About the author

JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL teaches English at Washington and Jefferson College and is the author or editor of six books. His work has been featured in the New York Times Magazine, Nature, and Scientific American, among others.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Published on
Apr 10, 2012
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Pages
272
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ISBN
9780547644813
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / Books & Reading
Science / Life Sciences / Evolution
Social Science / Popular Culture
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Romance: The History of a Genre is a collection of essays devoted to the highly popular and no less controversial genre of romance. A genre often disregarded for its stereotypical language, shallow characters, and predictable plots, dismissed as “women’s” fiction, accused of conventionalism, romance is a genre which, after ups and downs in its millennial history, is now holding a leading position on the international bookselling market. This achievement has also been possible with the endorsement of contemporary media and modern technology, cinema, television, the Internet, etc. Much has been written in both traditional and more recent literary theory about the origins and evolution of the early forms of romance, from the classical Antiquity, through the Middle Ages, and into the Renaissance and early modernity in Western Europe. A corpus, which is becoming more and more substantial today, is already available about the gendered status of contemporary romance, both in terms of the writing ethos and in terms of reader response, with theories coming from the combined areas of feminism, social sciences, and psychoanalysis. The aim of the present volume is that of noting the fluid character of the genre, with the great number of subcategories, mixed and hybrid, bringing evidence to the polymorphous nature of contemporary popular culture.

This book proposes, in four parts and twelve chapters, a fascinating and multifaceted journey into the history, substance and geography of romance. From its origins to the latest developments, from its subgenres to its features, from print to film, from television to Facebook, romance comes in various shapes and colours, which the reader can fully explore. The journey in the world of romance takes the reader from familiar corners to less familiar ones: from North America, Great Britain, Romania, or Turkey, to India or South Africa. The numerous approaches to romance generate diverse data, varied analytical frameworks and interesting, fresh and solidly grounded findings.

Seinfeld as a contemporary adaptation of Etherege's Restoration comedy of manners The Man of Mode?

Friends as a reworking of Shakespeare's romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing?

Star Wars as an adaptation of Spenser's epic poem, The Faerie Queene?

The popular culture that surrounds us in our daily lives bears a striking similarity to some of the great works of literature of the past. In television, movies, magazines, and advertisements we are exposed to many of the same stories as those critics who study the great books of Western literature, but we have simply been encouraged to look at those stories differently.

In Trash Culture, Richard K. Simon examines the ways in which the great literature and cultural work of the past has been rewritten for today's consumer society, with supermarket tabloids such as The National Enquirer and celebrity gossip magazines like People serving as contemporary versions of the great dramatic tragedies of the past. Today's advertising repeats the tale of the Golden Age, but inverts the value system of a classic utopia; the shopping mall combines bits and pieces of the great garden styles of Western history, and now adds consumer goods; Playboy magazine revises Castiglione's Renaissance courtesy book, The Book of the Courtier; and Cosmopolitan magazine revises the women's coming-of-age novels of Jane Austen, Gustave Flaubert, and Edith Wharton.

Trash Culture concludes that the great books are alive and well, but simply hidden from the critics. It argues for the linking of high and low for the study and appreciation of each form of literature, and the importance of teaching popular culture alongside books of the great tradition in order to understand the critical context in which the books appear.
An English professor begins training in the sport of mixed martial arts and explores the science and history behind the violence of men

When a mixed martial arts (MMA) gym moves in across the street from his office, Jonathan Gottschall sees a challenge, and an opportunity. Pushing forty, out of shape, and disenchanted with his job as an adjunct English professor, part of him yearns to cross the street and join up. The other part is terrified. Gottschall eventually works up his nerve, and starts training for a real cage fight. He’s fighting not only as a personal test but also to answer questions that have intrigued him for years: Why do men fight? And why do so many seemingly decent people like to watch?

In The Professor in the Cage, Gottschall’s unlikely journey from the college classroom to the fighting cage drives an important new investigation into the science and history of violence. Mixed martial arts is a full-contact hybrid sport in which fighters punch, choke, and kick each other into submission. MMA requires intense strength, endurance, and skill; the fights are bloody, brutal, and dangerous. Yet throughout the last decade, cage fighting has evolved from a small-time fringe spectacle banned in many states to the fastest-growing spectator sport in America.

But the surging popularity of MMA, far from being new, is just one more example of our species’ insatiable interest not just in violence but in the rituals that keep violence contained. From duels to football to the roughhousing of children, humans are masters of what Gottschall calls the monkey dance: a dizzying variety of rule-bound contests that establish hierarchies while minimizing risk and social disorder. In short, Gottschall entered the cage to learn about the violence in men, but learned instead how men keep violence in check.

Gottschall endures extremes of pain, occasional humiliation, and the incredulity of his wife to take us into the heart of fighting culture—culminating, after almost two years of grueling training, in his own cage fight. Gottschall’s unsparing personal journey crystallizes in his epiphany, and ours, that taming male violence through ritualized combat has been a hidden key to the success of the human race. Without the restraining codes of the monkey dance, the world would be a much more chaotic and dangerous place.
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