This “fascinating” (Malcolm Gladwell, New York Times bestselling author of Outliers) examination of literary inventions through the ages, from ancient Mesopotamia to Elena Ferrante, shows how writers have created technical breakthroughs—rivaling scientific inventions—and engineering enhancements to the human heart and mind.
Literature is a technology like any other. And the writers we revere—from Homer, Shakespeare, Austen, and others—each made a unique technical breakthrough that can be viewed as both a narrative and neuroscientific advancement. Literature’s great invention was to address problems we could not solve: not how to start a fire or build a boat, but how to live and love; how to maintain courage in the face of death; how to account for the fact that we exist at all.
Wonderworks reviews the blueprints for twenty-five of the most significant developments in the history of literature. These inventions can be scientifically shown to alleviate grief, trauma, loneliness, anxiety, numbness, depression, pessimism, and ennui, while sparking creativity, courage, love, empathy, hope, joy, and positive change. They can be found throughout literature—from ancient Chinese lyrics to Shakespeare’s plays, poetry to nursery rhymes and fairy tales, and crime novels to slave narratives.
A “refreshing and remarkable” (Jay Parini, author of Borges and Me: An Encounter) exploration of the new literary field of story science, Wonderworks teaches you everything you wish you learned in your English class, and “contains many instances of critical insight....What’s most interesting about this compendium is its understanding of imaginative representation as a technology” (The New York Times).
Angus Fletcher is a professor of story science at Ohio State’s Project Narrative, the world’s leading academic think-tank for the study of stories. He has dual degrees in neuroscience and literature, received his PhD from Yale, taught Shakespeare at Stanford, and has published two books and dozens of peer-reviewed academic articles on the scientific workings of novels, poetry, film, and theater. His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He has done story-consulting for projects for Sony, Disney, the BBC, Amazon, PBS, and Universal and is the author/presenter of the Audible/Great Courses Guide to Screenwriting.
“From the moment I read the original proposal for this book to the present day, I have wanted to publish this book. It is a tour of thousands of years of literature that takes a radically different approach from any you’ve previously encountered in college or elsewhere. The emphasis is on invention, and it shows us why invention in literature is as valuable and brilliant as invention in microbiology or quantum physics. There are dozens of works of literature described in a refreshingly new way in this book. They range from Homer and Sophocles to Dante and Shakespeare to Jane Austen, George Eliot, Frederick Douglass, Virginia Woolf, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ursula Le Guin, Alison Bechdel, and Elena Ferrante. There is poetry from Sappho to Cao Xuequin, and T. S. Eliot. It is a literary feast, and every work of literature is fresh and new under Fletcher’s microscope.”