The Story Paradox by John Gottschall

How our love of storytelling builds societies and tears them down.

In his previous book, The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gottschall showed us how humans see the world through the paradigm of stories. After all, most of our communication, almost all of our entertainment and all social media is essentially storytelling. We can take in facts or figures, but stories are what stay with us and how we understand life, the world around us and each other. And all stories are used to influence others or sway their thinking in some way. This is the concept explored again in this book, but here we see how our brains are wired for stories and then how we are overloaded with story in the current world. Our inability to tell story from real life, and the way cultural narratives are spun can leave us at odds with a more globalized world. And with the sheer amount of story thrown at us, often what sticks is not factual. Conspiracy theories and even weaponized story telling can result, and a globalized world becomes an increasingly more divided one.

This is such an interesting book and one well worth reading. It gives a great deal of examples, and is well researched and balanced. It helps make sense of a lot of things that are happening in the world at the moment. And it’s managed to piss off a few people over on Goodreads review section.

It’s not a hugely long book, but it covers a lot of ground, from the Ancient world, where suspicion of storytellers began, to modern science about how our brains process stories, how stories build empathy, and the way that the rise of the novel coincided with the rise of human rights, and even how modern warfare uses stories online to create propaganda that looks like factual stories. It’s fascinating and a little scary. Largely because when we’re told something, we assess it, but when we’re told stories we have a wired in lack of suspicion, stronger than rational argument and more irresistible than hard facts.

This one may be one that we should all read. It’s eye opening.

Read It If: This one is a general one, anyone may like to pick it up. If you’re interesting in understanding people and world events, it will appeal. It also a great one for those of you who make stories: social media mavens, writers and movie makers.

Thank you to HBG Canada for the copy of this book for review.

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