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).
Fletcher (Cosmic Democracies), professor of story science at Ohio State's Project Narrative, delivers an innovative take on storytelling that shows how stories "plug into different regions of our brain." Each chapter examines a literary invention, such as "The Empathy Generator" and "The Fairy-Tale Twist," and shows how engaging with various authors and thinkers can shed light on the way modern works of literature and pop culture are received. One chapter focuses on the "Valentine Armor," meant to ward off heartbreak, and begins with Cervantes's Don Quixote, which inspired the mock romance of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones and led to themes in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. This blending of love and irony, Fletcher writes, is especially powerful because the two are processed in different parts of the brain, and "open our heart to other people without duping us into mistaking our own desires for the laws of reality." The "Stress Transformer," meanwhile, shows how Frankenstein led to such modern horror films as The Cabin in the Woods and considers the "physiological rush" from the fight-or-flight response and fictional scares. Fletcher proves that understanding the classics brings new life to the craft of literary creation. The result is a fresh take on the history of literature and a testament to the enduring power of reading.