Wednesday, May 30

The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall

What stories do you like? What ways do you like to engage with stories?  The answers to these questions vary widely from person to person.  You may like to read romance stories, while others like to watch comedic ones on TV.  Others prefer the storytelling in music. 

How about this: Why do you like stories?  What is it about story that is so important to us that we have created so many forms of storytelling?  Tales at the water cooler, gossip magazines in the grocery store isle, entire stores filled with books, and large rooms where you sit and watch a screen while surrounded by strangers are all venues for stories. Why?  This is the question that Jonathan engages with in his book.

A first glance may assume that the book primarily looks at the history of storytelling and the ways that storytelling has changed.  While there is definitely a historical element here, Jonathan also looks into the psychological and sociological aspect of storytelling.

One of the most interesting aspects was about memory and its unreliability.  One study involved interviewing people after the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger about their reactions and what they were doing when they heard of the explosion.  Two and a half years later those same people were asked the same questions.  “’For a quarter of the people, not one detail was consistent between the two reports…Not one person was completely consistent…most people were highly confident about the accuracy of their memories,’” says Lauren French, who worked on the study.  Jonathan also looks at studies which show psychologists were able to ‘contaminate’ memories and actually ‘place’ false memories in subjects.  While at first seeming like a rabbit trailer, Jonathan brings it into focus with the rest of the book.  It’s rather terrifying to think about.

Jonathan also looks into why we are drawn to stories filled with conflict.  Why don’t we desire super-realistic stories?  Why do [good] writers avoid pages and pages of characters discussing the weather?  Is it for wish fulfillment?  Escapism?

At times it seems Jonathan could look even deeper into the chapters.  The section on memory seemed to end too quickly.  A larger look at the different forms of storytelling could also be of interest to readers of the book.  Jonathan mentions video games a few times, as well as the progression of storytelling in them, but it tends to feel like an afterthought. At right around 200 pages there definitely seems like enough room for more.

Throughout the book Jonathan uses pictures to illustrate his points.  The visuals supported the text well, but they were all in black and white.  It’s a very minor complaint, but some color pictures would’ve looked really nice.

My love of writing and storytelling drew me into the book.  Then, Jonathan’s telling a story about story kept me reading.  It’s a solid book which I think many would enjoy, especially those who already have a specific interest in storytelling.

4/5 stars

I received this book free from TLC Book Tours. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

You can learn more about Jonathan at his website -

Check out the book trailer here.


  1. WOW! That study about people's memories of the Challenger explosion is fascinating. As memory relates to stories is a very fascinating topic, and I'm tempted to say I would read a whole book about that alone.

    I'm glad you really liked the book! Thanks for sharing your thoughts as part of the tour.

  2. Thanks Trish!

    I think a whole book on memories and story would be great. Maybe we could convince Jonathan to pick it up as his next project :)