The Written World: How Literature Shaped Civilization

Random. Oct. 2017. 448p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9780812998931. $32; ebk. ISBN 9780812998948. LIT
Puchner (English & comparative literature, Harvard Univ.; The Drama of Ideas; coeditor, Norton Anthology of World Literature) looks at a number of diverse and influential works of world literature, from the Iliad and Epic of Gilgamesh through The Tale of Genji and the Popol Vuh to Derek Walcott's Omeros and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter. He examines how these stories are refracted through the effects of writing and writing technologies in various cultures: from scribes marking clay tablets to the development of papyrus to paper, printing, and the Internet. The author is also interested in the influence of prominent readers in shaping the concept of literature and literacy: for example, Ezra on the Bible, Benjamin Franklin on popular media, Goethe on world literature, or Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong, and Ho Chi Minh on The Communist Manifesto. Puchner's work frequently reads like a book meant to accompany a television series on world literature, offering personal accounts of his visits to the historical sites associated with the works he discusses.
VERDICT Informative and engaging, Puchner's work provides a substantive but accessible account of the culture of writing and the transmission of literature. Of value to both general readers and specialists. [See Prepub Alert, 5/22/17.]

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