The Written World: The Power Of Stories To Shape People, History, Civilization by Martin PuchnerThe Written World: The Power Of Stories To Shape People, History, Civilization by Martin Puchner

The Written World: The Power Of Stories To Shape People, History, Civilization

byMartin Puchner

Hardcover | October 24, 2017

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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
Martin Puchner is the Byron and Anita Wien Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Harvard University. His prizewinning books cover subjects from philosophy to the arts, and his bestselling six-volume Norton Anthology of World Literature and his HarvardX MOOC (massive open online course) have brought four thousand years of l...
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Title:The Written World: The Power Of Stories To Shape People, History, CivilizationFormat:HardcoverDimensions:448 pages, 9.5 × 6.1 × 1.5 inPublished:October 24, 2017Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0812998936

ISBN - 13:9780812998931

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Reviews

Editorial Reviews

Advance praise for The Written World“Well worth a read, to find out how come we read.”—Margaret Atwood, via Twitter“[Martin] Puchner creates a gripping intellectual odyssey.”—Publishers Weekly    “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. Leading the reader across a vast landscape of space and time, Martin Puchner is the perfect companion and guide. Restless, witty, learned, and endowed with seemingly infinite curiosity, he brings home to us how much we have been formed over the millennia by the tales we have invented and recorded.”—Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern   “A unique and spellbinding book . . . Martin Puchner’s dramatic storytelling leads us through the mazes and underworlds of civilization at key moments when it is being built or unbuilt. The Written World shows the way ‘great books’—and the alphabets, clay tablets, and printing presses by which they were spread—provided both the rudder and the sails for humanity’s voyage across vast oceans of time.”—Elaine Scarry, author of Naming Thy Name: Cross Talk in Shakespeare's Sonnets   “From Mesopotamia to the moon, The Written World is an imaginative, informative, and ingenious history of civilization in the form of a narrative of what people have written and read over the last four thousand years. It’s an exhilarating feat of intellectual athleticism. The big picture doesn’t get much bigger.”—Louis Menand, author of The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America