Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature

Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature

by Angus Fletcher
Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature

Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature

by Angus Fletcher


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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).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781982135973
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 03/09/2021
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 280,399
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Angus Fletcher is a professor of story science at Ohio State’s Project Narrative, the world’s leading academic think-tank for the study of stories. He has dual degrees in neuroscience and literature, received his PhD from Yale, taught Shakespeare at Stanford, and has published two books and dozens of peer-reviewed academic articles on the scientific workings of novels, poetry, film, and theater. His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He has done story-consulting for projects for Sony, Disney, the BBC, Amazon, PBS, and Universal and is the author/presenter of the Audible/Great Courses Guide to Screenwriting.

Table of Contents

Preface A Heaven of Invention 1

Introduction The Lost Technology 13

Chapter 1 Rally Your Courage 29

Homer's Iliad and the Invention of the Almighty Heart

Chapter 2 Rekindle the Romance 43

Sappho's Lyrics, the Odes of Eastern Zhou, and the Invention of the Secret Discloser

Chapter 3 Exit Anger 57

The Book of Job, Sophocles's Oedipus Tyrannus, and the Invention of the Empathy Generator

Chapter 4 Float Above Hurt 71

Aesop's Fables, Plato's Meno, and the Invention of the Serenity Elevator

Chapter 5 Excite Your Curiosity 83

The Epic of Sundiata, the Modern Thriller, and the Invention of the Tale Told from Our Future

Chapter 6 Free Your Mind 97

Dante's Inferno, Machiavelli's Innovatori, and the Invention of the Vigilance Trigger

Chapter 7 Jettison Your Pessimism 107

Giovanni Straparola, the Original Cinderella, and the Invention of the Fairy-tale Twist

Chapter 8 Heal from Grief 125

Shakespeare's Hamlet and the Invention of the Sorrow Resolver

Chapter 9 Banish Despair 139

John Donne's "Songs" and the Invention of the Mind-Eye Opener

Chapter 10 Achieve Self-Acceptance 153

Cao Xueqin's Dream of the Red Chamber, Zhuangzi's "Tale of Wanton, " and the Invention of the Butterfly Immerser

Chapter 11 Ward Off Heartbreak 167

Jane Austen, Henry Fielding, and the Invention of the Valentine Armor

Chapter 12 Energize Your Life 183

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Modern Meta-Horror, and the Invention of the Stress Transformer

Chapter 13 Solve Every Mystery 195

Francis Bacon, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of the Virtual Scientist

Chapter 14 Become Your Better Self 211

Frederick Douglass, Saint Augustine, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the Invention of the Life Evolver

Chapter 15 Bounce Back from Failure 227

George Eliot's Middlemarch and the Invention of the Gratitude Multiplier

Chapter 16 Clear Your Head 241

"Rashomon," Julius Caesar, and the Invention of the Second Look

Chapter 17 Find Peace of Mind 251

Virginia Woolf, Marcel Proust, fames Joyce, and the Invention of the Riverbank of Consciousness

Chapter 18 Feed Your Creativity 273

Winnie-the-Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, and the Invention of the Anarchy Rhymer

Chapter 19 Unlock Salvation 287

To Kill a Mockingbird, Shakespeare's Soliloquy Breakthrough, and the Invention of the Humanity Connector

Chapter 20 Renew Your Future 301

Gabriel Garcia Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, and the Invention of the Revolution Rediscovery

Chapter 21 Decide Wiser 311

Ursula he Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, Thomas More's Utopia, Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, and the Invention of the Double Alien

Chapter 22 Believe in Yourself 327

Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and the Invention of the Choose Your Own Accomplice

Chapter 23 Unfreeze Your Heart 341

Alison Bechdel, Euripides, Samuel Beckett, T. S. Eliot, and the invention of the Clinical Joy

Chapter 24 Live Your Dream 353

Tina Fey's 30 Rock, a Dash of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," and the Invention of the Wish Triumphant

Chapter 25 Lessen Your Lonely 367

Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend, Mario Puzo's The Godfather, and the Invention of the Childhood Opera

Conclusion Inventing Tomorrow 387

Coda The Secret History of This Book 391

Acknowledgments 401

Notes on Translations, Sources, and Further Reading 403

Index 423

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