“[Puchner] emphasises the ubiquity of storytelling across human history, elevating it in the manner of the historian Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind into perhaps the defining human trait, necessary to instil the trust on which so much else is built. . . . The book builds a convincing case that writing technologies are more foundational in major historical moments than we may have otherwise thought.”—Financial Times
“If you love literature (and if you are reading this column you probably do), then you are likely to find Martin Puchner’s The Written World: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, Civilization enthralling. . . . Puchner is a generous, natural teacher who brings these works and their origins to vivid life. . . . Education and enthusiasm combine seamlessly in Puchner’s sweeping narrative, which comprises history, biography, technology and ideas. And while it is a cliché to say he brings literature to life, he does exactly that, connecting the dots of civilization in new and interesting ways. The Written World is perfect reading for a long chilly night, and it will leave you thinking in new ways about the wondrous thing called literature that, perhaps, we sometimes take for granted.”—BookPage
“Puchner has a keen eye for the ironies of history. . . . [His] seemingly boundless curiosity propels him not just through the world of books but around the globe. . . . His ideal is ‘world literature,’ a phrase he borrows from Goethe, who was impatient with cultural frontiers, read Chinese novels and Persian poetry and knew a dozen languages. The breathtaking scope and infectious enthusiasm of this book are a tribute to that ideal.”—The Sunday Times
“In this timely chronicle, Puchner, a professor of English and comparative literature at Harvard University, tells the story both of the ideas that shaped civilization and the equally crucial technology that transmitted and preserved those ideas. . . . By providing snapshots of key moments in the written word’s evolution, Puchner creates a gripping intellectual odyssey.”—Publishers Weekly
“Puchner doesn’t just tell us about the important works of literature that have shaped civilization over four thousand years, from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Don Quixote to J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. He tells us about the people whose personal persuasions led them to create those works. It’s literature not as mirror, then, but as potent force.”—Library Journal
“Well worth a read, to find out how come we read.”—Margaret Atwood, via Twitter
“The Written World is not only an expansive, exuberant survey of the central importance of literature in human culture but also a great adventure story—a story of letters and paper and rocket ships, of ruthless conquerors and elegant court ladies and middle-class entrepreneurs, of the will to power and the dream of freedom.”—Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
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