“The Paradox of History: How our love of storytelling builds and destroys societies.” Jonathan Gottschall. Basic books. 272 pages. $ 29.
We all tell stories. Some of us tell stories to entertain and educate our children. Some tell them to pass on the cultural history of the family, tribe or nation. Some stories preserve the culture of a business or political dynasty. And some have no noble purpose.
Jonathan Gottschall tells us how stories have helped us pass tribal values and history down through generations. But he begins his book with a disturbing account of how an unsubstantiated story – one with a vile purpose – led a man to murder several people in Pittsburgh, in a synagogue, on Shabbat.
This gruesome story reminds us that not all stories are meant to make us better, and too many of us seem incapable of filtering information, separating the wheat from the chaff (or the truth from the propaganda).
Like everyone else, I am a storyteller. My head bears chronicles of my past, alongside threads such as a classic Maine humor portfolio, popularized by Marshall J. Dodge III and Robert Bryan in the “Bert and Me” stories:
“What do you think of this man who stands in your way?” Would you call him an honest man or a liar?