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The Written World: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, Civilization

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In this groundbreaking book, Martin Puchner leads us on a remarkable journey through time and around the globe to reveal the powerful role stories and literature have played in creating the world we have today. Puchner introduces us to numerous visionaries as he explores sixteen foundational texts selected from more than four thousand years of world literature and reveals In this groundbreaking book, Martin Puchner leads us on a remarkable journey through time and around the globe to reveal the powerful role stories and literature have played in creating the world we have today. Puchner introduces us to numerous visionaries as he explores sixteen foundational texts selected from more than four thousand years of world literature and reveals how writing has inspired the rise and fall of empires and nations, the spark of philosophical and political ideas, and the birth of religious beliefs. Indeed, literature has touched the lives of generations and changed the course of history. At the heart of this book are works, some long-lost and rediscovered, that have shaped civilization: the first written masterpiece, the Epic of Gilgamesh; Ezra’s Hebrew Bible, created as scripture; the teachings of Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, and Jesus; and the first great novel in world literature, The Tale of Genji, written by a Japanese woman known as Murasaki. Visiting Baghdad, Puchner tells of Scheherazade and the stories of One Thousand and One Nights, and in the Americas we watch the astonishing survival of the Maya epic Popol Vuh. Cervantes, who invented the modern novel, battles pirates both real (when he is taken prisoner) and literary (when a fake sequel to Don Quixote is published). We learn of Benjamin Franklin’s pioneering work as a media entrepreneur, watch Goethe discover world literature in Sicily, and follow the rise in influence of The Communist Manifesto. We visit Troy, Pergamum, and China, and we speak with Nobel laureates Derek Walcott in the Caribbean and Orhan Pamuk in Istanbul, as well as the wordsmiths of the oral epic Sunjata in West Africa. Throughout The Written World, Puchner’s delightful narrative also chronicles the inventions—writing technologies, the printing press, the book itself—that have shaped religion, politics, commerce, people, and history. In a book that Elaine Scarry has praised as “unique and spellbinding,” Puchner shows how literature turned our planet into a written world.


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In this groundbreaking book, Martin Puchner leads us on a remarkable journey through time and around the globe to reveal the powerful role stories and literature have played in creating the world we have today. Puchner introduces us to numerous visionaries as he explores sixteen foundational texts selected from more than four thousand years of world literature and reveals In this groundbreaking book, Martin Puchner leads us on a remarkable journey through time and around the globe to reveal the powerful role stories and literature have played in creating the world we have today. Puchner introduces us to numerous visionaries as he explores sixteen foundational texts selected from more than four thousand years of world literature and reveals how writing has inspired the rise and fall of empires and nations, the spark of philosophical and political ideas, and the birth of religious beliefs. Indeed, literature has touched the lives of generations and changed the course of history. At the heart of this book are works, some long-lost and rediscovered, that have shaped civilization: the first written masterpiece, the Epic of Gilgamesh; Ezra’s Hebrew Bible, created as scripture; the teachings of Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, and Jesus; and the first great novel in world literature, The Tale of Genji, written by a Japanese woman known as Murasaki. Visiting Baghdad, Puchner tells of Scheherazade and the stories of One Thousand and One Nights, and in the Americas we watch the astonishing survival of the Maya epic Popol Vuh. Cervantes, who invented the modern novel, battles pirates both real (when he is taken prisoner) and literary (when a fake sequel to Don Quixote is published). We learn of Benjamin Franklin’s pioneering work as a media entrepreneur, watch Goethe discover world literature in Sicily, and follow the rise in influence of The Communist Manifesto. We visit Troy, Pergamum, and China, and we speak with Nobel laureates Derek Walcott in the Caribbean and Orhan Pamuk in Istanbul, as well as the wordsmiths of the oral epic Sunjata in West Africa. Throughout The Written World, Puchner’s delightful narrative also chronicles the inventions—writing technologies, the printing press, the book itself—that have shaped religion, politics, commerce, people, and history. In a book that Elaine Scarry has praised as “unique and spellbinding,” Puchner shows how literature turned our planet into a written world.

30 review for The Written World: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, Civilization

  1. 5 out of 5

    Patty

    A nonfiction book that makes its way through human history via the medium of literature. Each of sixteen chapters focuses on a particular classic and shows how it both influenced and was influenced by contemporary events, from Homer's Odyssey giving Alexander the Great a hero to model himself after to The Communist Manifesto inspiring revolutions across the world. A subthread is the development of the technologies of literature itself – the inventions of the alphabet, paper, the printing press, A nonfiction book that makes its way through human history via the medium of literature. Each of sixteen chapters focuses on a particular classic and shows how it both influenced and was influenced by contemporary events, from Homer's Odyssey giving Alexander the Great a hero to model himself after to The Communist Manifesto inspiring revolutions across the world. A subthread is the development of the technologies of literature itself – the inventions of the alphabet, paper, the printing press, ebooks, etc. It's a pretty neat idea for a book! Unfortunately the execution is terrible. I started off being annoyed that Puchner never seems quite clear on what he means by the term 'literature'. He implies it only includes written works (in the Introduction he says, "It was only when storytelling intersected with writing that literature was born."), and yet many of the pieces he choses to focus on were primarily composed orally (The Odyssey and the Iliad, The Epic of Sunjata, the Popul Vuh, probably the Epic of Gilgamesh, certainly at least parts of One Thousand and One Nights). And yet there's never any discussion of what it means to go from an oral mode to a written one, a topic I was eagerly awaiting to see analyzed. It's just... never addressed beyond a passing mention here and there. Okay, fine, I thought to myself, Puchner means 'literature' as in 'stories'. But that doesn't work either, since once again many of his choices don't tell any sort of narrative (Saint Paul's letters, Martin Luther's theses, Benjamin Franklin's 'Poor Richard's Almanac', Confucius's Analects, Mao's 'Little Red Book'). So what does Puchner mean by literature, the central organizing principle of his whole book? God alone knows. My irritation with the book deepened when I got to Chapter Four, where Puchner claims credit for inventing the concept of the Axial Age: "It was only in the course of trying to understand the story of literature that I noticed a striking pattern in the teaching of the Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, and Jesus. Living within a span of a few hundred years but without knowing of one another, these teachers revolutionized the world of ideas. Many of today’s philosophical and religious schools—Indian philosophy, Chinese philosophy, Western philosophy, and Christianity—were shaped by these charismatic teachers. It was almost as if in the five centuries before the Common Era, the world was waiting to be instructed, eager to learn new ways of thinking and being. But why? And what explained the emergence of these teachers?" Sure, dude, sure. You came up with this vastly original idea all on your own. (To be fair, if one choses to read through the endnotes, Puchner does cite Karl Jaspers, though he still insists his own version is ~so different~.) He then proceeds to get basic information about the Buddha completely wrong. For example: Some form of writing may have existed in India during the Buddha’s time (the so-called Indus Valley script may not have been a full writing system and remains undeciphered). This sentence. I can't even. I almost stopped reading the book right here, it's so incredibly incorrect. It's like saying, "Thomas Jefferson may have been literate, but since we find no Latin engravings in his house, we can't be sure." Let me lay out the problems. The Buddha lived around 500BCE; the last known well-accepted use of the Indus script was in 1900BCE. That's a gap of nearly two millennia. The Indus script was used on the western edge of South Asia, in Pakistan and the Indian states of Gujarat and Haryana; the Buddha lived on the eastern edge, in Nepal. At minimum, they're 500 miles apart. There is no chance in hell the Indus script was remotely relevant to writing about the Buddha. And in fact, we don't need to guess at the script of the Buddha's time and place. It's called Brahmi and it's quite well attested – though Puchner doesn't once mention it. He does include a photo of an Indus seal, because why not waste more space on utterly irrelevant information. Let's quickly go through the problems on the rest of this single paragraph: What mattered above all were the age-old hymns and stories of the Vedas, which were transmitted orally by specially appointed Brahmans for whom remembering the Vedas was an obligation and a privilege. Though the Vedas do have an important oral history, they were certainly written down by the time of the Buddha, and possibly as early as 1000BCE. The oldest Indian epic, the Ramayana, was also orally composed and only later written down, much like Homeric epics. The Mahabharata is generally considered to be the older of the two epics. Despite my disillusionment at this point, I continued on with the book. And to be fair, I noticed many fewer mistakes! Though possibly because I know much less about Renaissance Germany or Soviet Russia than I do about Indian history. I did hit several problems again in the chapter on the Popul Vuh, the Mayan epic. To begin with, the chapter opens with a long dramatic scene recreating the Spanish conquistadores' capture of Atahualpa, the Incan emperor. Incan. Who lived in Peru, in South America. The Classic Mayan culture was based in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize – North America and a bit of Central America. This time Puchner is literally on the wrong continent. Once he finally makes his way up to the Mayan homeland, he focuses his narration on Diego de Landa, a Spanish priest who did indeed write an important ethnography of the Mayans of the 1500s. The Classic Mayan Era was over by 950CE, introducing a discrepancy Puchner does not deign to acknowledge. Even aside from that small problem, Puchner describes Landa's writings multiple times as "an account [...] that has remained the primary source of information on Maya culture." This entirely ignores not only the Popul Vuh itself; but the multiple other Mayan codices that survived Spanish colonialism; the many Mayan writings carved on their pyramids, palaces, and stele, and painted on their pottery; their murals of war, sport, and history; the enormous archaeological record of their cities, technology, and diet; and, oh yeah, the fact that Mayan people are still around today. Oh, my bad – Puchner does remember the Mayans still exist. Here's what he has to say about them: "My journey began in the Lacandon jungle. A bus dropped me at the border of the Maya territory, where a beat-up truck picked me up at the side of the road. The village of several dozen huts was located in a clearing in the jungle. Everyone but me was dressed in what looked like long white nightgowns. Men and women both wore their black hair shoulder length (I thought of the shipwrecked sailor who had gone native), and most of them walked around barefoot, sometimes donning rubber boots." That's it. That's literally the only mention of the modern Mayan people. (Puchner's in the area to learn about the Zapatista uprising, to which he devotes the rest of the chapter.) I'm so glad he spent ages detailing that and de Landa's biography instead of devoting any space at all to the contemporary persistence of Mayan beliefs, language, or rituals. When I first read its blurb, I looked forward to the rest of The Written World. Unfortunately it's the closest I've come to hurling a book at the wall in a long, long time. I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Marc

    A book about the top works of world literature, is there anything more interesting? On this forum that is of course a rhetorical question. So, it was with eagerness that I started this book, encouraged by the subtitle: "How literature shapes history”. Unfortunately, Puchner does not quite live up to the expectations. Of course, those who are not well introduced in world literature will learn quite a bit: Puchner gives a nice summary of the basic stories (the Iliad, the Gilgamesh story, the Old T A book about the top works of world literature, is there anything more interesting? On this forum that is of course a rhetorical question. So, it was with eagerness that I started this book, encouraged by the subtitle: "How literature shapes history”. Unfortunately, Puchner does not quite live up to the expectations. Of course, those who are not well introduced in world literature will learn quite a bit: Puchner gives a nice summary of the basic stories (the Iliad, the Gilgamesh story, the Old Testament stories, etc.), explains how they were composed and how they were laid out in writing after an initial oral tradition. And he also makes a creditable attempt to open up the field: the texts of Benjamin Franklin and Johan Goethe are also covered, and he also includes Japanese, West African and Central American stories in his studies. In particular, he shows what an important role they have played in the world view of all those cultures and how they have inspired certain peoples and individuals to great deeds. The common thread is always that it are "foundational texts". That focus certainly is interesting, and applies to many of the cited works, but not to all of them. For example, the entertaining and fascinating collection "1001 nights" has never been an inspiration model for medieval Islamic society. And the "Don Quixote" certainly is an iconic text, but it was never foundational for Spanish or West European people. Puchner’s book therefore lacks some homogeneity. And then there are all those other defects. It all stays a bit superficial: Puchner limits himself to the main lines. Regularly disturbing errors are made, such as the statement that Alexander the Great always had the Iliad under his sleeping pillow (at that time there were no physical books, and I have my doubts about that sleeping pillow). In the chapter about Buddha, Confucius, Socrate and Jesus, he literally reproduces the Axial theory of Karl Jaspers, without the slightest mention of his source. And what particularly bothered me: Puchner sketches the historical context of the basic texts largely on the basis of the classic legends that have been handed down. For example, he bases Alexander's life (and his dealings with the Iliad) entirely on the classical mythical stories about Alexander himself. It seems to me, this is all incomprehensibly uncritical for a Harvard professor. So all in all this is an interesting book, certainly, but with a few ugly flaws.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Leslie Ray

    There is a lot of history in this book and a lot of good factual information. However, I thought there would be more of a focus on how the written word came to be and the mechanics of movement from oral tradition and the passing down of information via songs and storytellers. Puchner has chosen various literary works to provide examples from all over the globe to present the influence of literary books on history, culture, and civilization. I can't say that I would have chosen the works he did b There is a lot of history in this book and a lot of good factual information. However, I thought there would be more of a focus on how the written word came to be and the mechanics of movement from oral tradition and the passing down of information via songs and storytellers. Puchner has chosen various literary works to provide examples from all over the globe to present the influence of literary books on history, culture, and civilization. I can't say that I would have chosen the works he did but I don't disagree with him either.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jo Walton

    Disappointingly slight. This is a shallow skim through some fascinating material. It's deeply unsatisfying because the author doesn't engage and isn't passionate, and seems to imagine that the way to write a popular (as opposed to academic) book on a serious non-fiction subject is to keep it simple. I admit that he was covering a vast amount of ground, but he doesn't ever get one centimetre below the surface. The other problem is with putting himself in the book, how he felt, the travel he did fo Disappointingly slight. This is a shallow skim through some fascinating material. It's deeply unsatisfying because the author doesn't engage and isn't passionate, and seems to imagine that the way to write a popular (as opposed to academic) book on a serious non-fiction subject is to keep it simple. I admit that he was covering a vast amount of ground, but he doesn't ever get one centimetre below the surface. The other problem is with putting himself in the book, how he felt, the travel he did for the book, etc. This only works when the authorial voice has something authentic to add. That voice has to be present, informed, interesting. (Rebecca West would be a good example.) I am far from opposed to having an "I" in the frame. But the I shouldn't condescend, and this book condescends all through to its imaginary stupid reader. Readers may well pick up a book like this because they're uninformed about a subject, but that's really different from being stupid. Lively is good, but it should be a real not a fake liveliness, but above all, it should engage. Bleah. This should have been a great book, but it isn't.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Al Bità

    Perhaps the best thing to say about this book is that Puchner’s easy-to-read text is a rather excellent introduction to the vast field of world literature in general, and its potential influence on us over the millennia. Insofar as the general argument remains that other voices and other cultures are made accessible to us through our being able to read their literature (albeit often only in translation), I am all in favour of what Puchner’s book is about. Unfortunately, it is not all that simple Perhaps the best thing to say about this book is that Puchner’s easy-to-read text is a rather excellent introduction to the vast field of world literature in general, and its potential influence on us over the millennia. Insofar as the general argument remains that other voices and other cultures are made accessible to us through our being able to read their literature (albeit often only in translation), I am all in favour of what Puchner’s book is about. Unfortunately, it is not all that simple… The book ranges across some four thousand years of writing, and so it becomes essential to be selective in what is chosen to represent the main idea. The selections made can only represent a small proportion of what has been written; yet in some cases what is left out may be more significant than what has been included. This may be unavoidable, but it is a problem. I also feel that, where potential readers might be more au fait with particular works cited, the act of presenting them briefly, and then proceeding on to the next text, could come across as simplistic and irritatingly imprecise. Thus each of the sixteen chapters of this book is both stimulating and irritating at the same time. Each section potentially raises more questions than it answers. I think maybe part of the problem lies in the device used in the presentation of relevant texts. It proceeds by describing some event, raising a particular issue, briefly explaining it, then more often than not jumping about in time within an otherwise normally chronological time-line. This is combined with the perhaps overworked framework of lots of travelling about to various centres across the world to get the “feel” of some event (not always particularly revealing or illuminating); and the process then repeats. With each selection, while the issue in each case seems “connected” to the main idea, it would probably be more precise to say that it is dealing with a different aspect of that idea. This tends to make one feel that, cumulatively, the book is a bit disjointed, or at best slightly out of focus. All of this contributes to ambiguities which further complicate matters. Take, for example, the title: “The Written World”. It suggests that there is only one “world” that is written… Shouldn’t the title read in the plural: “Written Worlds”? It could be argued that every written account creates its own “world” — and that world is not necessarily “real”; it just “reads” that way! The same, of course, can be said of the “spoken” world(s). Linguists have told us that there are probably far more different languages world-wide which have never been written down. One does not have to be literate in order to be able to speak a language. Nor does it mean that the spoken worlds are any more realistically related to the real world. That being said, it immediately raises questions as well about the sub-title of the book: “How Literature Shaped History”. Here again there is ambiguity: history as we know it always comes after the “historical events”; and the first narratives (real or unreal) come from spoken words used to create “spoken worlds”; and spoken will always include sung words as well — both spoken and sung words always precede anything that might ultimately become written words. In the comparatively long process towards any written texts (and these are frequently very specific to a particular region and group of people at a particular time) then surely the interpreted “worlds” of the spoken/sung language will become embedded within the signs and symbols used for the literate “worlds”. So it would seem that written worlds are, in the first instance, merely a reproduction of those worlds first created by the spoken/sung words. From this perspective, the spoken words are the ones that have “shaped” the world, not the written ones. I also suspect that, as far as “shaping” the world is concerned, the spoken/heard words are far more important, not so much as in shaping the world, but in brainwashing and biasing us into interpreting the world in specific (not always beneficial) ways! — think of preaching, lectures, radio and television, for starters. It is perhaps much later, when “literature” developed and evolved its own independence, that we have a florescence of purely speculative and fictional worlds being created, pinned down by specific signs, symbols, glyphs, spellings, punctuations, etc. to their originating times. In a sense, then, each time this happens, a “new” world is created… We can then use this literature to write about the created literature in a way that then becomes “history” in a different sense. Thus it would seem that the use of the past tense (shaped) should more correctly be in the present tense (shapes) — each time we read/speak/hear a created world, it shapes our current conception of the world (both past, present and for the future) in ways which are new and different each time it happens. Incidentally, this same approach occurs in the world of computer “languages” (they are not spoken languages, but derive directly from written languages adapted to the needs of their technology) which indeed technology needs to directly shape and make objects for us in the real world. That final remark also raises other aspects not specifically covered by the book: those written worlds found in Mathematics, Physics, Science, Chemistry, Biology, Philosophy, Medicine, etc. All these represent interpretations of different forms of reality which have directed our attention in the past, and changed (and continue to change) the way we interpret the real world. And from here, we can then raise concerns about another aspect not really touched upon in the book: the relevance, truth, ethics, etc. of our created worlds… There is no discussion about how we can evaluate the many worlds we might have access to, or what criteria might apply in that evaluation in order to ascertain their value, importance or significance (or not) to life, living, and survival in general. Access to many different and varied interpretations of the world can be creative and exciting, and this is a quality which we can all enjoy. But it always remains that, whatever those interpretations may be (and remember they can also be evil and destructive as well as good and creative) they are still, and will always be speculative only — they represent responses (valid or invalid) to our perceptions (right or wrong) of the world, not the world itself. We can alter, refine and/or otherwise adjust those perceptions to create new ones, in the mistaken belief that this actually changes the world in some way — but it doesn’t. Both spoken and literary worlds come and go, but the world itself abides.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    This book about the influence of literature on civilization, favorably reviewed by the NY Times, will probably maybe be an ongoing read for this year; the plan, which I haven't committed to or thought very much about, is to read maybe a chapterish a month (there are 16) and sometimes a book from it. I mean Tale of Genji is one of the chapters and I was gonna read that anyway. So look, if you're looking for something super dorky to do, come along! I've created a shelf with the major reading in th This book about the influence of literature on civilization, favorably reviewed by the NY Times, will probably maybe be an ongoing read for this year; the plan, which I haven't committed to or thought very much about, is to read maybe a chapterish a month (there are 16) and sometimes a book from it. I mean Tale of Genji is one of the chapters and I was gonna read that anyway. So look, if you're looking for something super dorky to do, come along! I've created a shelf with the major reading in the book. I've already hit a lot of these books, but I'm excited for some commentary on them; Puchner makes some really great, interesting choices, and I'd like to have more context for, like, Popol Vuh and Sundiata. I'm through chapter one now; it was good, not like life-changing but fun. All about how Alexander the Great was obsessed with The Iliad.

  7. 4 out of 5

    TS Chan

    3.5 stars. I believe that almost all of us on Goodreads are avid readers, and one of the reasons we read is to experience what the stories can do to and for us. The existence of this recent publication came to my attention while trawling BBC.com, specifically its Culture webpage, and reading an article about Alexander The Great's bedside reading material, The Illiad by Homer. Immediately, I was intrigued and resolved to read this book about books, or rather, written material that shaped the world 3.5 stars. I believe that almost all of us on Goodreads are avid readers, and one of the reasons we read is to experience what the stories can do to and for us. The existence of this recent publication came to my attention while trawling BBC.com, specifically its Culture webpage, and reading an article about Alexander The Great's bedside reading material, The Illiad by Homer. Immediately, I was intrigued and resolved to read this book about books, or rather, written material that shaped the world as we know it. The author is a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Harvard University. The materials he covered in this book ranged from the ancient texts of The Illiad and The Epic of Gilgamesh to foundational sacred scriptures like the Holy Bible, to novels the likes of The Tale of Genji and Don Quixote, as well as political narratives such as The Communist Manifest, and even Harry Potter. The basis of the book is fascinating, but while some of the entries are engaging, there are a few others I found to be quite dry or less compelling. The most powerful story in the whole lot in there for me had to be the one on Anna Akhmatova who wrote the elegy, Requeim, about the suffering of the people during the Great Purge under Stalin's iron fist reign. You can even read about it on BBC Culture's webpage that has a weekly feature on stories that shaped the world. In the end, The Written World may not be as amazing as I hoped it to be, but I am definitely better off to have read the book, which further enhanced my appreciation for the power of stories, and for the creation of writing, paper and the science of printing to enable such narratives to be preserved and transferred over the centuries.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nicky

    I’ve seen some complaints about the historical accuracy of this, particularly in regard to the earliest sections, but I’m unable to judge because it’s not really my area of history at all — inasfar as I know my history anyway, which is often patchy. I simply enjoyed The Written World as a summary, from one perspective, of how some stories and books have changed the world in being written (or in the case of previously oral works, written down). Puchner writes compellingly about books I haven’t re I’ve seen some complaints about the historical accuracy of this, particularly in regard to the earliest sections, but I’m unable to judge because it’s not really my area of history at all — inasfar as I know my history anyway, which is often patchy. I simply enjoyed The Written World as a summary, from one perspective, of how some stories and books have changed the world in being written (or in the case of previously oral works, written down). Puchner writes compellingly about books I haven’t read yet, and really makes them sound tempting — The Tale of Genji, for example (though he also makes Don Quixote sound fascinating, and I did not love that at all). It’s not the be-all and end-all, but if you love books and you want to read about some books that have been important in shaping society, then this should be right up your street (up your bookshelf?). Reviewed for The Bibliophibian.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lady Alexandrine

    This book is brilliant! It is the best book about literature or history of literature that I have ever read! It deserves not five, but at least ten shinning stars. The author writes about literature with great passion and it is wonderful to encounter someone as enthusiastic about literature as I am. The presence of the author is felt in the book. Same of his opinions and mentions of places he visited and his experiences are personal. It all makes for very interesting reading. The book is not at a This book is brilliant! It is the best book about literature or history of literature that I have ever read! It deserves not five, but at least ten shinning stars. The author writes about literature with great passion and it is wonderful to encounter someone as enthusiastic about literature as I am. The presence of the author is felt in the book. Same of his opinions and mentions of places he visited and his experiences are personal. It all makes for very interesting reading. The book is not at all dry, on the contrary, it is easy to read and fascinating. At times it is as if the author was telling his readers a story in person. Really, every person enthusiastic about literature should read this book. It connects times and places when world literature and books as we know them today were created in a new, enlightening and surprising way. I would like to thank Martin Puchner for writing this wonderful book!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Whether you are looking at your screen, a paper or an advert in the underground almost all we see around us has words in some form or other. Even the TV news has a ticker tape of other headlines now running underneath the presenter. This technology of the written word has shaped cultures through the ages as much as cultures have shaped language and the written world. Beginning with Alexander and his pillow book, Puchner takes us from the first marks pressed into clay, the invention of vellum, pap Whether you are looking at your screen, a paper or an advert in the underground almost all we see around us has words in some form or other. Even the TV news has a ticker tape of other headlines now running underneath the presenter. This technology of the written word has shaped cultures through the ages as much as cultures have shaped language and the written world. Beginning with Alexander and his pillow book, Puchner takes us from the first marks pressed into clay, the invention of vellum, paper and inks that were first made into codex's or books as we now call them. Most importantly though was the stories, messages and words that were written on them. These words and works of literature from the epic classics to the political tracts and the religious texts, they have shaped the way people think, cause revolutions and inspired people to fight for the causes they believe in. A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on. ― Terry Pratchett That power of language is still with us today, as can be seen from modern day politics… This is an interesting book and Puchner has done pretty well to distil the vast magnitude of world literature and the effects that it has had around the world and bring it in between the covers of this book. It has a really helpful timeline at the beginning with locations where each chapter of our literary journey was started and the text is enhanced with images of some of the books he mentions in the text. It is an enjoyable read, the only flaw being that it cannot go into too much depth to make the book manageable, however, there is a large reference section though for those that want to discover more about our shared literary legacy.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dorothy

    In the beginning was the word and the word created everything that came after. Today we live in The Written World, a civilization shaped by literature. In this fascinating book, Martin Puchner takes us on a trip through time to show us how the world that we know today was brought into being by story-tellers. The stories that they told were first shared through an oral tradition, handed down from one poet/singer to another. The need to preserve the stories and pass them on helped lead to a system In the beginning was the word and the word created everything that came after. Today we live in The Written World, a civilization shaped by literature. In this fascinating book, Martin Puchner takes us on a trip through time to show us how the world that we know today was brought into being by story-tellers. The stories that they told were first shared through an oral tradition, handed down from one poet/singer to another. The need to preserve the stories and pass them on helped lead to a system of writing and finally to methods of printing and distributing those printed texts. Inexorably, step by step, the first texts printed with wooden blocks have led us to digital "printing" and the Kindle on which I read this book. More than four thousand years of world literature have brought us to this. Puchner explores the ways in which literature has created our modern civilization by introducing us to the foundational texts and the visionaries that have been central to that creative force. Through sixteen chapters, he details the stories of sixteen of these foundational works. The beginning was more than four thousand years ago in Mesopotamia with the Epic of Gilgamesh. It was printed in cuneiform on clay tablets and was discovered in the mid 19th century by Austen Henry Layard near what was thought to be the site of the ancient city of Nineveh and is today the city of Mosul, Iraq. It told the story of the king Gilgamesh and the wild man Enkidu who became his friend. At the center of the story was the tale of Utnapishtim, the survivor of a great flood which covered the earth. This was the antecedent and precursor of all other great flood stories. From this first great epic, Puchner moves on to Ezra's Hebrew Bible to Homer's Iliad and Odyssey and to the teachings of the Buddha, of Confucius, Socrates, and Jesus, all of whose teachings were collected and written down by others and all of whom helped to shape the societies in which they lived. Finally, we get to the first great novel in world literature, The Tale of Gengi, which was written by a Japanese woman known as Murasaki, and from there to the story of Scheherazade and her One Thousand and One Nights. I was particularly interested in Puchner's exploration of literature in the New World, specifically that of the Maya. It is in many ways a tragic story. So much of Mayan literature was lost to destruction by the Spanish conquerors and most particularly by Diego de Landa who burned many of the codexes. But it is also a story of the courage and determination of the Maya who managed to hide and save some of their heritage, including their own great foundational text, the Popul Vuh. We also meet the creator of the modern novel form, Miguel Cervantes, and learn that he may have been the first victim of intellectual property theft when literary pirates published a fake sequel to Don Quixote. Cervantes engaged in a long and costly fight to protect his creation. There is also the compelling story of an epic tale of West Africa called Sunjata. Like Homer's Iliad, it was preserved in an oral tradition, possibly for centuries, before it was finally written down. Puchner moves us swiftly on through world literature from Benjamin Franklin to Goethe to the Communist Manifesto and even to the present time. He visits Derek Walcott, a few years before his death, and discusses his great epic, Omeros, a foundational text for the Caribbean. And finally, he discusses J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter stories and shows how she, too, used the form of the foundational text in creating these stories. This summary barely scratches the surface. I found this book completely captivating. Puchner keeps the narrative moving with chronicles of the inventions which accompanied each advance in literature, as well as the philosophical, political, and religious ideas that sprang from that literature. For the dedicated reader, this book goes far toward explaining why we read and why we cannot imagine a world without books.

  12. 4 out of 5

    victor harris

    More like a travel log that hops around from story to story with no central theme. Some interesting individual stories such as Goethe, but very convoluted and the writing needed major editing and an overhaul. Rather regret that I wasted my time on it and don't recommend it. More like a travel log that hops around from story to story with no central theme. Some interesting individual stories such as Goethe, but very convoluted and the writing needed major editing and an overhaul. Rather regret that I wasted my time on it and don't recommend it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Marks54

    The author is a Professor in the English Department at Harvard. It is a very ambitious work seeking to provide a history of world literature in 16 chapters. The intent is to show how story tellers and the texts they produce and the means by which stories and texts are propagated and remembered - the technology of the written word — has come to shape the history of the world. The chapters span recorded history, from Gilgamesh to Homer to the Bible to Buddha and Confucius. Gutenberg and the Reform The author is a Professor in the English Department at Harvard. It is a very ambitious work seeking to provide a history of world literature in 16 chapters. The intent is to show how story tellers and the texts they produce and the means by which stories and texts are propagated and remembered - the technology of the written word — has come to shape the history of the world. The chapters span recorded history, from Gilgamesh to Homer to the Bible to Buddha and Confucius. Gutenberg and the Reformation make the cut, as do Cervantes and Franklin. There is also the role of modern political sacred texts like the Communist Manifesto as well as the literature that arose to witness and protest totalitarian states and colonial regimes. ... and Harry Potter is also there. This book appears to itself by a textual outgrowth of the author’s EdX course on world literature that is available on the web — so this appears to be from a MOOC. Sixteen chapters does seem to match the time frame for a semester too, although I don’t know what other supporting materials are included. I have a soft spot for learned books about books and I must give the author credit for trying. The general story line is interesting. The focal cases are well chosen and are easy to follow. The themes and topics covered are general and there is a lot here that is well covered in greater detail elsewhere. While there are little tidbits in many of the chapters, I was already familiar with almost all of these story lines. It reads like a souped up survey class that seeks to impress new students. My problem with the book is the overall logic tying the chapters together is not well developed and integrated. What is meant by literature, texts, world literature, technology, and the like is left conviently vague to suit the needs of the argument. In each of the chapters, the details of the relevant stories strike me as much more complicated than they are given credit here. In this book, the lack of detail struck me the most in the chapters on Marx and Engels, Communism, and Colonialism. I ended up recalling Pope’s “Essay on Criticism” — “A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.” This is not an issue, of course, if one is interested in a general introduction. I tend to stay away from MOOCs but I could see where this one would be interesting. I was expecting a harder edge in argument, however, and thought that this book could have delivered more than it did.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Florin Pitea

    Quite enjoyable and instructive. Highly recommended.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sambasivan

    The author needs to be complimented for taking up such an offbeat topic to write about. How has written literature shaped history? Travelling across the globe to the sites where groundbreaking books were written and investigating deeply about the authors, Martin Puchner has performed a tremendous service to the literary population at large. This is a book to be savoured as most of the information cannot be found elsewhere. Great read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Christina (A Reader of Fictions)

    Though I don’t do a ton of nonfiction, I’ve been getting into nonfiction on audiobook, and obviously this was totally up my alley. The Written World is less of a focused book on one subject as of a collection of essays on a similar topic. Puchner doesn’t focus solely on the written world, as the title would suggest. The subtitle is closer to the actual book, but there’s also a lot about nonfiction. He spends most of his time focusing in on one specific famous person and looking at the impact a wr Though I don’t do a ton of nonfiction, I’ve been getting into nonfiction on audiobook, and obviously this was totally up my alley. The Written World is less of a focused book on one subject as of a collection of essays on a similar topic. Puchner doesn’t focus solely on the written world, as the title would suggest. The subtitle is closer to the actual book, but there’s also a lot about nonfiction. He spends most of his time focusing in on one specific famous person and looking at the impact a writing had on them or that they had on writing (or both). I learned some cool new stuff from it, but the style wasn’t as engaging as some of the other nonfiction books I’ve listened to, and I didn’t come away with a strong take away. Oh, also, there’s a lot of insert of Puchner in here. The book’s part travelogue almost, because he traveled to every place mentioned pretty much. I’m pretty sure he mentioned adding more of his experiences in at the advice of his editor, but personally I didn’t feel like these little snippets added a whole lot to the book. And I could definitely have done without his commentary on Harry Potter, which he also read just for the book. (He didn’t think it was bad, but it was kind of patronizing and I am not here for it.) Very much worth a lesson but this one really didn’t stick with me.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sonya Dutta Choudhury

    This year I am dipping back into the theory of stories - something I did decades ago, as a young English Literature major at Delhi University. Only now I've read more books than I had then, more murder mysteries, more sci-fi, more literary fiction, more short stories. Being married to a reader & being mother of three readers means I now enjoy more of a mix - The Mahabharata & Molly Moon. Edith Wharton & Enid Blyton. Jatakas, Jennings & J K Rowling.... So I love that Puchner picks up stories from This year I am dipping back into the theory of stories - something I did decades ago, as a young English Literature major at Delhi University. Only now I've read more books than I had then, more murder mysteries, more sci-fi, more literary fiction, more short stories. Being married to a reader & being mother of three readers means I now enjoy more of a mix - The Mahabharata & Molly Moon. Edith Wharton & Enid Blyton. Jatakas, Jennings & J K Rowling.... So I love that Puchner picks up stories from across continents . A PHD from Harvard , a literary critic & philosopher , he writes a labour of love , travelling the world in the footsteps of stories. Even coming to Jaipur, India. The Tale of Genji from Japan, 1001 nights in Persia, The New Testament, Don Quixote,Akhmatova's poetry in the time of Stalin, a Nobel poet laureate from the tiny Carribean island of St. Lucia and eventually Harry Potter. How stories change history - Alexander 's love for the Iliad inspires him to conquer an empire . Continents and centuries away, a modern day leader of the Zapatista uprising in southern Mexico uses the old Maya epic Popol Vuh as a weapon of resistance and insurrection.... He writes how technology changes stories ..or does it ? Twitter and a haiku may not be so different , he says ... Readers, professors, students of literature - this one is for you.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Ni Shiochain

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This book has a powerful message, but it’s one that has been delivered with much greater assurance many times before - sometimes it felt too much like a list of influential texts, with an article on their history and message, rather than a celebration or even appreciation of the value of literature. I did, however, enjoy it as sort of reference book; the thematic division of literature into, for example, ‘religious’ or ‘didactic’ categories was well-executed. Puchner succeeds in creating a genera This book has a powerful message, but it’s one that has been delivered with much greater assurance many times before - sometimes it felt too much like a list of influential texts, with an article on their history and message, rather than a celebration or even appreciation of the value of literature. I did, however, enjoy it as sort of reference book; the thematic division of literature into, for example, ‘religious’ or ‘didactic’ categories was well-executed. Puchner succeeds in creating a general narrative between different time periods - especially in the early chapters. I don’t think I would have read it in one go had I not recieved it as a present, but it was nevertheless enjoyable and has a sort of admirable diligence about the choice of content to include (I couldn’t accuse it of being Euro-centric or otherwisely biased, for instance.)

  19. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    Excellent subject matter and an ambitious scope can't completely save this book from it's duller moments and awkwardly forced autobiographical interjections from the author. Nevertheless, as a broad introduction and a starting place for further reading on these texts and cultures it's a useful and relatively quick read. Excellent subject matter and an ambitious scope can't completely save this book from it's duller moments and awkwardly forced autobiographical interjections from the author. Nevertheless, as a broad introduction and a starting place for further reading on these texts and cultures it's a useful and relatively quick read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Laurel Hicks

    Once I made it through the well-trodden paths of syllabary, alphabet, clay, and papyrus, I found this narrative to be fascinating—a page-turner. Its only flaw is its treatment of the Bible. Perhaps he should read the Book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Damona

    I gave up after 3 chapters. The writing was scattered, boring, and just plain WRONG in several places. Not wasting my time on this when there are so many better books out there.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    What do the actions of the Apollo 8 astronauts have to do with the influence of literature on human civilization? Well, according to Martin Puchner the author of the new reference work The Written World - How Literature Shaped Civilization, the first observers of the phenomenon called Earthrise responded in such a way to support his thesis purported therein. What did they do? They read from the Book of Genesis in the Bible: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth and the earth was What do the actions of the Apollo 8 astronauts have to do with the influence of literature on human civilization? Well, according to Martin Puchner the author of the new reference work The Written World - How Literature Shaped Civilization, the first observers of the phenomenon called Earthrise responded in such a way to support his thesis purported therein. What did they do? They read from the Book of Genesis in the Bible: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth and the earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep..." thus endorsing the influence of foundational texts, in this case the Old Testament, on the advancement of humanity. Puchner, a professor of English and Comparative Literature at Harvard, guides the reader through a chronological tour of the history of the written word. From the Epic of Gilgamesh-- the first known recorded literary narrative, which was discovered in the mid 19th century by Austen Henry Layard near what is today Mosul, Iraq and what is thought to be the approximate location of the ancient biblical city of Ninevah and which was written in Cuneiform on clay tablets-- through the Homeric epics, Ezra's Bible, Don Quixote, to the poetry of Derek Walcott and the fantasies of J.K. Rowling and G.R.R. Martin, the author postulates the profound effect of literature on our civilization writ large. The Macedonian, Alexander the Great cherished works like the Illiad and The Odyssey, spreading their influence as well as the Greek language, throughout Egypt and the Levant. He built the great Library at Alexandria as a testament to the proliferation all things Greek. Before him, The Mesopotamian king, Ashurbanipal (circa 668 B.C.E.), had been trained as a scribe and was himself responsible for many reproductions of the aforementioned Epic of Gilgamesh, possibly even the one discovered by Layard. The epic contains the archetype of the tale of the great flood later included in the Old Testament, another foundational text, which was to be recorded by a Judean named Ezra. Ezra was also a scribe, one who's people had been exiled from Jerusalem. He is credited with elevating the foundational text of what became known as the Holy Bible to a sacred document, "itself an object of worship". Puchner goes on to convince the reader of the power of a good story. Examples such as A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, possibly the first anthology of tales, lend credence to his thesis. He explains how philosophical mentors like Confucius, Socrates or Jesus spread their teachings orally, never recording any of their basic tenets held so dear by their followers; and how the disciples of these powerful figures used writing to propagate their message. He elaborates on the history of printing; how automated type was integral to the advancement of influential ideas leading to major revolutionary movements throughout history. Think Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto. He enlightens us to lesser known foundational texts such as: The Popol Vuh of the Mayan, which was suppressed and burned by the Spanish Conquistadors in the Great Auto-Da-Fe of 1562; The Epic of Sunjata, literature germinating from Mali that has survived exclusively in the oral medium, essentially a performance, never having been written down until very recently; and the epic poem Omeros by Nobel laureate, Derek Walcott, a work which aspires to Homeric grandeur about his homeland of St. Lucia. The Written World is so chock-a-block with fascinating history, it will keep the curious reader riveted till the final pages. It also contains many photos, maps and illustrations as well as a complete compendium of textual notes to supplement one's reading experience. Puchner sets a personal tone by injecting some of his own story of research methodology and enterprising travel that helps the reader identify with the author, warming the work beyond the realm of the textbook. In conclusion, he notes that more people are literate than ever before in history which means that, with blogs, self publishing and the like, more writing is being done by more people. So, In celebration of their conquest, perhaps the first men to reach Mars will choose a reading from the Gospel of you or me. ~ 4.2 Stars

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jason Furman

    An insightful, enjoyable tour of the written word from Gilgamesh through Harry Potter that shows how the intersection of the evolution of the technology of writing and "foundational" texts have shaped the course of history. Martin Puchner does not aim to be exhaustive and as a result is book is pleasant and not at all exhausting. (It is also written in a jargon-free manner that aims to instruct and entertain but not intimidate with unnecessary literary theory.) Rather than stuffing everything in An insightful, enjoyable tour of the written word from Gilgamesh through Harry Potter that shows how the intersection of the evolution of the technology of writing and "foundational" texts have shaped the course of history. Martin Puchner does not aim to be exhaustive and as a result is book is pleasant and not at all exhausting. (It is also written in a jargon-free manner that aims to instruct and entertain but not intimidate with unnecessary literary theory.) Rather than stuffing everything in, he picks key texts, moments, places and times that are both important in their own right but also illustrate the range of points he wants to make. Much is missing that would fit into his general story (from the Koran to Charles Dickens), but he clearly made the right choice. (I'm less sure of the choice he made about inserting himself and his own travels to the places where various books were written and set into the book, it made it feel more like a certain type of journalism and travelogue and did not add much, except maybe for his search for the village of Dauphin which was the subject of a one act play by Derek Walcott.) Puchner starts with The Iliad and the influence it had on Alexander the Great who, he argues, was motivated in part by re-enacting the Iliad's conception of heroism and warfare. He then goes back to Gilgamesh and from there proceeds chronologically taking in a great variety of times, places, and genres--not just fiction but also Martin Luther, the Communist Manifesto, and other documents that have drawn on literature and technology to have widespread influence. In the course of the book Puchner explains how cuneiform writing started, how alphabets involved, the process of making different types of writing mediums, the development of printing, how samizdat were produced and distributed in the Soviet Union, and ends with the online complements to literature today. In some cases he tells a familiar story albeit one that fits right in with the book's general argument, for example how Martin Luther was much more influential than previous critics of the Catholic Church because he was able to take advantage of the printing press to distribute his criticisms widely. In other cases it is less familiar, like his argument that Socrates, Buddha, Confucius and Jesus were all partly rebelling against what they viewed as the tyranny of foundational texts in their societies so did not commit their own words to writing, but then their followers and disciples wrote them down and established new foundational texts. Puchner is also interested in how Goethe coined the term "world literature" and how we now look back on it, including text that had disappeared for millennia but now have their place in world literature back--like Gilgamesh. Overall, I enjoyed it quite a lot.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

    While some of the content in this non-fiction book about the origins of writing and storytelling were interesting, I absolutely grew to disdain the author, along with his proud, pompous, and clueless approach to so many of the topics he covered. For one thing, I've always been under the impression that non-fiction as a genre should be OBJECTIVE. As in, not biased. Um...not the case with this book. Surprise, surprise, a Harvard professor can't keep his liberal, atheistic opinions to himself and ju While some of the content in this non-fiction book about the origins of writing and storytelling were interesting, I absolutely grew to disdain the author, along with his proud, pompous, and clueless approach to so many of the topics he covered. For one thing, I've always been under the impression that non-fiction as a genre should be OBJECTIVE. As in, not biased. Um...not the case with this book. Surprise, surprise, a Harvard professor can't keep his liberal, atheistic opinions to himself and just report the facts -- he is simply TOO BRILLIANT to sit on his own perspectives! Just a few examples: he accuses traditional interpreters of the U.S. Constitution and the Bible of falling prey to "textual fundamentalism," claiming that such people take texts too seriously (hello -- they're called codes of conduct, or codes of law); he is HIGHLY offensive in describing the God of the Old Testament as a "scribe who sits up in the sky;" accuses Jews of copying the story of Noah from an ancient text called The Epic of Gilgamesh, and basically analyzes the major figures of every world religion as "charismatic leaders," with the exception of Islam, which he conveniently skips over, like any spineless, politically correct member of academia would. Another point: Puchner has absolutely no issue condemning capitalism, but refuses to acknowledge that Soviet Russia destroyed the lives of thousands under a COMMUNIST regime. The author instead describes it as merely "totalitarian." Really? Because I'm pretty sure that China, Russia, and Cuba were all police states under COMMUNISM, specifically (the author, of course, only has glowing things to say about The Communist Manifesto). To make things even worse, Puchner tries and fails -- at extremely awkward points in the book -- to infuse his own personality and experiences into his research. Has no one explained to this Harvard professor that people read research to learn more about what's TRUE, not about what's perceived? Skip this one. I've read that the author frequently got many facts wrong throughout, anyway. My mistake was sticking with it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    James (JD) Dittes

    I have read plenty of collections of "most influential books" on listcicles and actual books, but Puchner's tome somehow went deeper for me. Puchner's sixteen books illustrating the history of the titular "written world" span continents and eons, from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Harry Potter. The thread he uses to connect these selections is technology, using each chapter to describe advancements in writing--from the clay tablets of Sumer, to Chinese paper, Gutenberg's printing press, typewriters a I have read plenty of collections of "most influential books" on listcicles and actual books, but Puchner's tome somehow went deeper for me. Puchner's sixteen books illustrating the history of the titular "written world" span continents and eons, from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Harry Potter. The thread he uses to connect these selections is technology, using each chapter to describe advancements in writing--from the clay tablets of Sumer, to Chinese paper, Gutenberg's printing press, typewriters and carbon paper, and the newspaper. This was such a clever way to describe the development of literature. It introduced me to new classics that I wasn't familiar with, such as The Tale of Genji and the Mayan epic, Popul Vuh. It also illumined the lives of two of Puchner's fellow Germans: Johannes Gutenberg and Wolfgang von Goethe and their impact on world literature. (Goethe, a titan of literature, science and philosophy, and a contemporary of Thomas Jefferson is woefully undertaught in the English-speaking world.) I would recommend this book to literary-minded readers, interested in a fresh look at both the texts that built humanity and the technology that made today's incredible spread of information and ideas possible.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

    Puchner’s examination of the growth of literature and its impact on civilizations throughout history is fascinating. I enjoyed every chapter and, honestly, learned quite a lot about how the written word truly influenced every society. I liked the fact that the narrative isn’t just of a person citing researched facts from inside a library or office, but that Puchner actually traveled the world searching out clues and trying to piece together the very complicated puzzle of how and when written lit Puchner’s examination of the growth of literature and its impact on civilizations throughout history is fascinating. I enjoyed every chapter and, honestly, learned quite a lot about how the written word truly influenced every society. I liked the fact that the narrative isn’t just of a person citing researched facts from inside a library or office, but that Puchner actually traveled the world searching out clues and trying to piece together the very complicated puzzle of how and when written literature started in the various places around the world and then spread. I also enjoyed the fact that the examination of the impact on civilizations did not stop with ancient civilizations but carried through all the way to modern day. With my backgrounds in literature and history, I did know a surface level of knowledge about the subject, but I feel more enlightened now having read this work. Thank you NetGalley and Random House for the ARC of the work in exchange for an honest review.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gayla Bassham

    I really enjoyed this tour of history's watershed writings. The book really shines in the first half; to me it seemed pretty clear that Puchner was much more at home discussing Scheherazade and Gilgamesh than discussing Harry Potter. (Or maybe he was just bitter that he was sorted into Slytherin.) I especially appreciated what a wide net Puchner cast--the chapters on The Tale of Genji, the Mayan Popul Vuh, and the West African Epic of Sunjata are some of the strongest and most interesting in the I really enjoyed this tour of history's watershed writings. The book really shines in the first half; to me it seemed pretty clear that Puchner was much more at home discussing Scheherazade and Gilgamesh than discussing Harry Potter. (Or maybe he was just bitter that he was sorted into Slytherin.) I especially appreciated what a wide net Puchner cast--the chapters on The Tale of Genji, the Mayan Popul Vuh, and the West African Epic of Sunjata are some of the strongest and most interesting in the book. Highly recommended for anyone interested in literary history. But be forewarned that the Mayan chapter will break your heart.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Ducie

    Although I am an avid reader across a wide variety of fictional genre, I rarely read non-fiction. This book was a Christmas present and I have read it from beginning to end - and thoroughly enjoyed it. It introduced me to aspects of literature I have never come across before. I am particularly looking forward to exploring the writings of Lady Murasaki and the Epic of Sunjata. I love the way it moves through history; and the final chapter was a joy to read: Harry Potter and self-publishing both d Although I am an avid reader across a wide variety of fictional genre, I rarely read non-fiction. This book was a Christmas present and I have read it from beginning to end - and thoroughly enjoyed it. It introduced me to aspects of literature I have never come across before. I am particularly looking forward to exploring the writings of Lady Murasaki and the Epic of Sunjata. I love the way it moves through history; and the final chapter was a joy to read: Harry Potter and self-publishing both discussed seriously and without being dismissed. Martin Puchner's style is easy to read without being patronising. A must read for anyone interested in the history and importance of literature.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Anna Maria Ballester Bohn

    I really enjoyed this. I especially liked the variety, not only centering on known works of the western canon, but also diving into the Popol Vuh or the Sunyata, which I new nothing about. I did like the personal style, although there's always a risk it could go sideways, and it does in this book occasionally. But it was an altogether engrossing book that will please anyone interested in literature and who is not too nitpicky. I really enjoyed this. I especially liked the variety, not only centering on known works of the western canon, but also diving into the Popol Vuh or the Sunyata, which I new nothing about. I did like the personal style, although there's always a risk it could go sideways, and it does in this book occasionally. But it was an altogether engrossing book that will please anyone interested in literature and who is not too nitpicky.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    I really enjoyed this history of world literature. The author traced the development of writing, paper, oral storytelling traditions, the impact of manifestos, and more in a fascinating account of the progress of literature. I don't remember how I heard about this book, but I'm glad I did. A very worthwhile reading experience. I really enjoyed this history of world literature. The author traced the development of writing, paper, oral storytelling traditions, the impact of manifestos, and more in a fascinating account of the progress of literature. I don't remember how I heard about this book, but I'm glad I did. A very worthwhile reading experience.

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