The Written World | Granta

  • Published: 05/07/2018
  • ISBN: 9781783783144
  • 129x20mm
  • 432 pages

The Written World

Martin Puchner

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.

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, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

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, Naming Thy Name: Cross Talk in Shakespeare's Sonnets

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, The Metaphysical Club: A Stoy of Ideas in America

The Author

Martin Puchner holds the Byron and Anita Wien Chair in Drama, English and Comparative Literature at Harvard University. He has published over a dozen books, collections, and anthologies, including The Written World (Granta, 2017) and is the general editor of the six volume Norton Anthology of World Literature, used by students worldwide. He has written for the London Review of Books, Raritan Review, Bookforum and N+1.

More about the author →

From the Same Author

The Language of Thieves

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You might have heard the saying ‘you’re in a pickle’ meaning you’re in a difficult situation. This is just one example of Rotwelsch, an ancient language of the road influenced by Yiddish and written in rudimentary signs, and spoken by vagrants and refugees, merchants and thieves since the European Middle Ages.

Martin Puchner grew up knowing that Rotwelsch was of unusual interest to his family. When he inherited a family achive, it led him on a journey not only into the history of this extraordinary language but also into his family’s connections to the Nazi Party, for whom Rotwelsch held a particular significance.

The Language of Thieves is a compelling story of the mindset and milieu of Central Europe and of the way language can be used to evade oppression. It is also a deeply moving reckoning with a family’s buried past.

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