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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)

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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.