Cover: On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction, from Harvard University PressCover: On the Origin of Stories in PAPERBACK

On the Origin of Stories

Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction

Add to Cart

Product Details

PAPERBACK

$25.00 • £20.95 • €22.50

ISBN 9780674057111

Publication Date: 11/15/2010

Short

560 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

14 halftones

Belknap Press

World

A century and a half after the publication of Origin of Species, evolutionary thinking has expanded beyond the field of biology to include virtually all human-related subjects—anthropology, archeology, psychology, economics, religion, morality, politics, culture, and art. Now a distinguished scholar offers the first comprehensive account of the evolutionary origins of art and storytelling. Brian Boyd explains why we tell stories, how our minds are shaped to understand them, and what difference an evolutionary understanding of human nature makes to stories we love.

Art is a specifically human adaptation, Boyd argues. It offers tangible advantages for human survival, and it derives from play, itself an adaptation widespread among more intelligent animals. More particularly, our fondness for storytelling has sharpened social cognition, encouraged cooperation, and fostered creativity.

After considering art as adaptation, Boyd examines Homer’s Odyssey and Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who! demonstrating how an evolutionary lens can offer new understanding and appreciation of specific works. What triggers our emotional engagement with these works? What patterns facilitate our responses? The need to hold an audience’s attention, Boyd underscores, is the fundamental problem facing all storytellers. Enduring artists arrive at solutions that appeal to cognitive universals: an insight out of step with contemporary criticism, which obscures both the individual and universal. Published for the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species, Boyd’s study embraces a Darwinian view of human nature and art, and offers a credo for a new humanism.

Awards & Accolades

  • A New Zealand Listener Best Book of 2009
The Digital Dictionary of American Regional English [website screenshot]

Recent News

Black lives matter. Black voices matter. A statement from HUP »

From Our Blog

Jacket: Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education, by Justin Reich, from Harvard University Press

Publishing (and Promoting) a Book during a Pandemic

This year challenged the way people do many things. For Justin Reich that meant rethinking how to promote his new book, Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education, published in September. With bookstore tours and readings out of the question, Reich came up with an idea to get the word out about his book. On March 24, I submitted the final copyedits for my new book