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Publisher's Summary

The story of how literature shaped world history, in 16 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 16 foundational texts selected from more than 4,000 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.

©2017 Martin Puchner (P)2017 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Well worth a read, to find out how come we read.” (Margaret Atwood, via Twitter)
"[Martin] Puchner creates a gripping intellectual odyssey." ( Publishers Weekly)

What listeners say about The Written World

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Powerful and illuminating!

I went to college in the early 1960s and was only introduced to British and American literature. There were significant gaps in my knowledge of literature from both ancient civilizations and emerging nations. Dr. Puchner brings a wealth of knowledge and places it within a vast frame. He blends literature, history, economics, religion and political movements. His lively writing style engages readers as he travels the world in search of foundational texts. This is a must read!

Anthony Bourdain is to food as
Rick Steves is to travel as
Neil Degrasse Tyson is to astrophysics as
Martin Puchner is to the written world, and
Probably more entertaining.

7 people found this helpful

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  • 11-23-18

Captivating narration and excellent history

Phenomenally informative history that provokes Google searches along the way for an interactive experience. Rare.

3 people found this helpful

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A Must Have in anyone's library.

I truly enjoyed listening to the audio version of this work. I honestly didnt want it to end and secretly wished every classic work of art can be reviewed by the author. I have understood and retained a historical aspect of the world's history better than in any class or coursework I have taken. I never liked history for that reason. Martin Puchner has done: I love history if it is told so eloquently and accessibly. Most importantly, I enjoyed a scrupulous, fair and unbiased interpretations of the literature pieces discussed in this book. one tiny note, though, the battle in July of 571 between Chinese and Arabs if to be affiliated to the area if Kazakhstan, then it should be called Talas region. The battle is said to have happened in Talas city, and that would be Kyrgyzstan. its minor really, but either switch city to region and keep Kaxakhstan or keep Talas CITY and correct the country to Kyrgyzstan.

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A Strong Start

The histiry of how writing influenced society is fascinating. The story slowed at the end.

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Excelent book

As a men I prefer a woman narrator, but it is great anyway. Read in one day.

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Excellent information

The influence of books and stories through history will amaze you as you read. Several books they rate as a big cultural influences, I initially did not agree with but I was soon convinced as the back story to what brought about and it’s continuing influence will change your mind.