Words Can Shred: One ...


It’s tough to beat The New Yorker when it comes to storytelling.

Starting with Malcolm Gladwell, the writers who grace these pages aren’t just good. They’re gifted.

That’s what I was thinking as I tucked into the essay “Can Science Explain Why We Tell Stories” by Adam Gopnik.

What could be better than the combination of scientific insights on storytelling and “is it live or is it Memorex”-type writing.


One out of two isn’t bad.

The writing is superb:

“Good stories are strange. What strong scientific theories, even those crafted in pop form, have in common with good stories is not some specious universality. It’s that they make claims so astonishing that they seem instantly very different from all the other stories we’ve ever heard. Good stories are startling. A sensitive, educated man is mad with lust for an eleven-year-old girl! Yikes! (Or, Yuck! Which is the same reaction with a slightly different sound.) lt isn’t Miss Havisham who is turning him into a gentleman? It ‘s that convict all the way back from the first chapter? Are you serious? This power to astonish is true even of seemingly long or esoteric stories that no one is said to read…”

But Mr. Gopnik directs so much kinetic energy from the keyboard dressing down Jonathan Gottschall and his new book, “The Storytelling Animal” that he loses the scent of the headline.

To be fair, the “Page Turner” forum in The New Yorker discusses books and that’s what Mr. Gopnik does.

I just hoped that he might share a fresh insight or two of his own on the scientific front.

The best article I’ve found that delves into the science behind the resonance of storytelling came from Scientific American: “The Secret of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn” (requires $7.95 payment).


  • Lani Voivod

    Thank you for the post and the great storytelling resources, Lou. I’m presenting on the “The Science of Storytelling” tomorrow and the articles you share here are a HUGE blessing. Your post is a goldmine for me.

    Sending much gratitude and good vibes your way,

  • Lou Hoffman

    Thanks a ton for the positive words.

    Good luck with the presentation.

    Let me know if the deck ends up on Slideshare.

  • The Psychological Power of Storytelling « Life is Mysterious

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  • Patrick McGee

    Lou –
    I must live in another universe. Our business stories are just client centric problem and resolution stories, featuring my clients’ solutions.Media and customers seem to like them. They recognize the conflict frame and the path to resolution as verbal/visual/people stories to which they can relate.If we had the frames Mr. Gopnik is touting, we’d be shunted off to the arts and entertainment sections. We’re all about business with our stories. Gopnik’s in another world.

    • hoffman

      Thanks for the perspective. Gopnik does live another world, perhaps another example of how a polarizing viewpoint “sells.”


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