The Written World by Martin Puchner
The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, Civilization

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But he never offers a unifying theme. “The Written World” works better as a series of interesting, if loosely connected, vignettes than as a revelation of literature’s uniquely transformative role.
-The Economist

Synopsis

The story of how literature shaped world history, in sixteen acts—from Alexander the Great and the Iliad to Don Quixote and Harry Potter

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.

“Well worth a read, to find out how come we read.”—Margaret Atwood, via Twitter

“A gripping intellectual odyssey.”—Publishers Weekly

“An expansive, exuberant survey of the central importance of literature in human culture but also a great adventure story.”—Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Swerve
 

About Martin Puchner

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Published October 24, 2017 by Random House. 448 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The Written World
All: 3 | Positive: 2 | Negative: 1

Kirkus

Above average
on Aug 30 2017

In mounting a learned and, yes, literate defense for literature as an instrument of mind and memory, Puchner also argues against literary fundamentalism, allowing texts to be seen as living things and allowing “readers of each generation to make these texts their own.” A lucid entertainment for the humanists in the audience.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by PD Smith on Jul 04 2018

Martin Puchner’s history of writing, the printed word and storytelling takes the reader on a wonderfully rich tour through the places and texts that have shaped our lives and history.

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The Economist

Above average
on Jan 11 2018

But he never offers a unifying theme. “The Written World” works better as a series of interesting, if loosely connected, vignettes than as a revelation of literature’s uniquely transformative role.

Read Full Review of The Written World: The Power ... | See more reviews from The Economist

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