Angus Fletcher

‘Fascinating. It blew my mind!’ Malcolm Gladwell

Wonderworks reveals that literature is among the mightiest technologies that humans have ever invented, precision-honed to give us what our brains most want and need.

Literature is a technology like any other. And the writers we revere – from Homer to Shakespeare, Austen to Ferrante – each made a unique technical breakthrough that can be viewed as both a narrative and neuroscientific advancement. But literature’s great invention was to address problems we could not solve: not how to start a fire or build a boat, but how to live and love; how to maintain courage in the face of death; how to account for the fact that we exist at all.

Based on Angus Fletcher’s own research, Wonderworks tells the story of the greatest literary inventions through the ages, from ancient Mesopotamia to modern-day America. It draws on cutting-edge neuroscience to demonstrate that the inventions really work: they enrich our lives with joy, hope, courage and energy, and they help our brains heal from grief, loneliness and even trauma.

From ancient Chinese lyrics to nursery rhymes and fairy tales, from slave narratives to contemporary TV shows, Wonderworks walks us through the evolution of literature’s crucial blueprints, and offers us a new understanding of its power.

First published:
September 2, 2021


Reviews for Wonderworks

‘Find one polymath. Take a profound knowledge of world literature. Add a deep knowledge of neuroscience. Stir in an enchanting prose style. This is Angus Fletcher’s Wonderworks. A marvellous treat‘ – Martin Seligman, New York Times bestselling author of Authentic Happiness

‘Fletcher endorses storytelling as a foundational technology but he goes beyond that to illustrate its therapeutic value and centrality to cultural invention’ – Antonio Damasio, Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Brain and Creativity Institute, University of Southern California

Wonderworks is an extraordinary book, which makes a passionate, compelling and engaging case for the value of literature’ – Raphael Lyne, Professor of Renaissance Literature, University of Cambridge

‘An intelligent, engaged and erudite attempt to neurologically tackle not just some abstract and simplified “story”, but some of the world’s greatest narratives, from the Iliad to Dream of the Red Chamber, from Disney’s Up to the novels of Elena Ferrante. It speaks to the inner reader in us all, as well as to the inner neurologist’ – Simon Ings, New Scientist

Perky and often amusing…Fletcher is a kind of Jeeves, leading us around the castle of literature in a respectful but knowing manner… Fletcher makes a convincing argument that using even the saddest books to experience new feelings and to learn from them is the way forward for both writers and readers‘ – Jane Smiley, Guardian

‘Explains how different kinds of stories can variously alleviate the whole gamut of emotions’ Tom Bawden, iPaper


Angus Fletcher