Jonathan Gottschall

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Jonathan Gottschall
Jonathan Gottschall photo.jpg
Photo by Sam Fee
Born (1972-09-20) September 20, 1972 (age 43)
Washington, PA, United States
Residence Washington, Pennsylvania[1]
Fields literature and evolution
Institutions Washington & Jefferson College
Alma mater State University of New York at Binghamton[2]
Doctoral advisor David Sloan Wilson[3]
Spouse married[1]
Children 2 daughters[1]

Jonathan Gottschall (born September 20, 1972) is an American literary scholar specializing in literature and evolution. He teaches at Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania.[1][4] He completed graduate work in English at State University of New York at Binghamton,[2] where he worked under David Sloan Wilson.[3]

His work The Rape of Troy: Evolution, Violence and the World of Homer describes the Homeric epic poems Iliad and Odyssey in terms of evolutionary psychology, with the central violent conflicts in these works driven by the lack of young women to marry and the resulting evolutionary legacy, as opposed to the violent conflicts being driven by honor or wealth.[5]

Literature, Science and a New Humanities advocates that the humanities, and literary studies in particular, need to avail themselves of quantitative and objective methods of inquiry as well as the traditional qualitative and subjective, if they are to produce cumulative, progressive knowledge, and provides a number of case studies that apply quantitative methods to fairy and folk tale around the world to answer questions about human universals and differences.[6]

Gottschall was profiled by the New York Times[7] and The Chronicle of Higher Education.[8] His work was featured in an article in Science describing literature and evolution.[3]

Gottschall's book, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human (Houghton Mifflin 2012), is about the evolutionary mystery of storytelling—about the way we shape stories, and stories shape us.[9] A review by The Virginian-Pilot said "Gottschall assesses and accounts for that powerful narrative attraction in a compelling chronicle of his own...and it is a certifiable knee-slap, three-pipe, blue-moon ripsnorter.[10] The Storytelling Animal was a New York Times Editor's Choice selection and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

In his latest book, The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch (Penguin 2015), Gottschall describes the three years he spent at a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) gym trying to learn how to fight. He uses this experience as a way to explore the evolutionary psychology of violence, masculinity, and sports. The climax of the book is a description of Gottschall's first and only cage fight. Commenting on his inspiration for the volume a Daily Beast Web site interview with Sam Harris, Gottschall noted that he was approaching forty and making only 16,000 dollars a year as an English professor. “At about that time, when I was going through this sort of [midlife] crisis,an MMA gym opened across the street from the English Department, and I thought that was just hilarious. A cage fighting gym was now as far away from my office as you could throw a snowball. The juxtaposition of the incredibly refined world of the English Department and this savagery across the street struck me as very, very funny, and I started to fantasize about going over there.” Gottschall continued: “It was like a joke. I thought I could make people in the department laugh. They’d see me walk over there. They’d look up from their poems and there I’d be, in the cage, getting beat up. And then I had this other funny thought:`That’s how I’ll do it. That’s how I’ll get myself fired. That’s how I’ll get out of this job, because English Departments really don’t approve of blood sport.’ It all began as an elaborate career-suicide fantasy. But then I thought, `Maybe there’s a book in this.’ So I went across the street and tried to learn how to fight and ended up writing a book.”

In his book cover endorsement of The Professor in the Cage, Harvard University psychologist Stephen Pinker wrote, “What a charming and illuminating book! With scientific acumen and literary panache, Gottschall immerses himself, and us, in an ancient part of the male psyche. Among the many treats in this book are the history of recreational fighting, a limpid explanation of sexual selection, and a sympathetic portrayal of working-class men that’s worthy of a great novelist.”

List of works[edit]

  • The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative (2005) – edited with David Sloan Wilson. ISBN 978-0810122864
  • The Rape of Troy: Evolution, Violence and the World of Homer (2008)
  • Literature, Science and a New Humanities (2008)
  • Evolution, Literature and Film: A Reader (2010) – co-edited with Brian Boyd and Joseph Carroll.
  • Graphing Jane Austen: The Evolutionary Basis of Literary Meaning (2012). Co-authored with Joseph Carroll, John A. Johnson, and Daniel Kruger.
  • The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make us Human (2012) ISBN 978-0547391403
  • The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch (2015)


  1. ^ a b c d Gottschall, Jonathan. "About". Archived from the original on 2012-01-31. Retrieved 2012-01-31.  External link in |work= (help)
  2. ^ a b Max, D.T. (November 6, 2005). "The Literary Darwinists". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ a b c "Red in Tooth and Claw Among the Literati" (PDF). Science. May 6, 2011. Retrieved 2012-01-31. 
  4. ^ "Jonathan Gottschall featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education's 'Chronicle Review'". W&J Messenger. Washington & Jefferson College. Retrieved 2010-04-26. 
  5. ^ "Science Magazine Podcast Transcript, 6 May 2011". Science. May 6, 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-01-31. Retrieved 2012-01-31. 
  6. ^ Easterlin, Nancy (April 2009). "Literature, Science, and the New Humanities (review)". Philosophy and Literature. 33 (1): 230–33. Retrieved 26 December 2014. 
  7. ^ Cohen, Patricia (March 31, 2010). "Next Big Thing in English: Knowing They Know That You Know". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-26. 
  8. ^ Peterson, Britt (August 1, 2008). "Darwin to the Rescue" (PDF). The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 2010-04-26. 
  9. ^ "My Daily Read: Jonathan Gottschall". The Chronicle of Higher Education. January 25, 2012. Retrieved January 31, 2012. 
  10. ^ "Storytelling is hard-wired into the species". The Virginian-Pilot  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). May 6, 2012. Retrieved September 17, 2012. 

External links[edit]