The Written World

How Literature Shaped History

Martin Puchner

Published: 16 November 2017
Hardback, Demy HB
138x216mm, 432 pages
ISBN: 9781783783137


From clay tablets to the printing press.

From the pencil to the internet.

From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Harry Potter.

This is the true story of literature -- of how great texts and technologies have shaped cultures and civilizations and altered human history.

The inventions of paper, the printing press and the world wide web are usually considered the major influences on the way we share stories. Less well known is the influence of Greek generals, Japanese court ladies, Spanish adventurers, Malian singers and American astronauts, and yet all of them played a crucial role in shaping and spreading literature as we know it today.

The Written World tells the captivating story of the development of literature, where stories intersect with writing technologies like clay, stone, parchment, paper, printing presses and computers. Central to the development of religions, political movements and even nations, texts spread useful truths and frightening disinformation, and have the power to change lives. Through vivid storytelling and across a huge sweep of time, The Written World offers a new and enticing perspective on human history.

About the author


The Written World is not only an expansive, exuberant survey of the central importance of literature in human culture, but it is also a great adventure story - a story of letters and paper and rocket ships, of ruthless conquerors and elegant court ladies and middle-class entrepreneurs, of the will to power and the dream of freedom... Puchner brings home to us how much we have been formed over the millennia by the tales we have invented and recorded'’ Stephen Greenblatt, author



‘A new and excitingly different approach to the history of language and literature. [It] follows a global trail showing how writing has influenced and spread religion and political ideas and acted as repository for our shared past and as a vehicle for ideas about our future’

‘A unique and spellbinding book. Martin Puchner's dramatic storytelling leads us through the mazes and underworlds of civilization at key moments when it is being built or unbuilt. The Written World shows the way 'great books' - and the alphabets, clay tablets, and printing presses by which they were spread - provided both the rudder and the sails for humanity's voyage across vast oceans of time’ Elaine Scarry, author

‘From Mesopotamia to the moon! The Written World is an imaginative, informative, and ingenious history of civilization in the form of narrative of what people have written and read over the last 4,000 years. It's an exhilarating feat of intellectual athleticism. The big picture doesn't get much bigger’ Louis Menand, author

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