Proust and the Squid Book Summary - Proust and the Squid Book explained in key points
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Proust and the Squid summary

The Story and Science of the Reading Brain

4.5 (223 ratings)
25 mins

Brief summary

"Proust and the Squid" by Maryanne Wolf explores how the human brain evolved to read and how reading has shaped the development of culture and cognition. It analyses the impact of digital technology on reading patterns and the importance of deep reading for critical thinking.

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    Proust and the Squid
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    When humans started writing, our brains rearranged themselves to take on the challenge of reading.

    The history of reading is long and complicated, but this much is obvious: our brains learned to read when we began to write.

    Of course, it’s hard to pinpoint when exactly humans first invented writing. But it seems that, long before there were any alphabets with different letters representing distinct sounds of a particular language, humans began to record information through visual symbols.

    One of the earliest examples can be found in the Blombos Cave in South Africa. There, archeologists have uncovered stones marked with cross-hatched lines they believe to be almost 80,000 years old. In this case, it’s not known what the lines represent, but there are other examples of early human cultures using similarly marked stones, shells, and clay pieces to record economic transactions. So there’s good reason to believe that the lines in the Blombos Cave are not just random scribbles, but carry meaning.

    The discovery that you could represent things in the world through abstract symbols, and thereby record events for future generations, was a revolutionary idea. So revolutionary, in fact, that it ended up changing our brains.

    The key message here is: When humans started writing, our brains rearranged themselves to take on the challenge of reading.

    Our brains are made up of billions of connected nerve cells, or neurons. These neurons have the amazing ability to restructure themselves and form new connections, depending on how we use them. Scientists call this phenomenon “neural plasticity.”

    When humans first learned to read, new neural pathways formed in their brains that allowed them to detect and decode intricate visual symbols at rapid speed. If you remember what it was like to learn to read as a child, you will appreciate how powerful this transformation can be. From not knowing what to make of those strange markings on the page, your reading skills soon become so automatic that you can’t not read the words in front of you.

    Neuroscientists have shown that, when humans look at unfamiliar, letter-like shapes, we only activate a small part of the visual areas located in the back of our brain. But when we see letters we know, our brain’s activity nearly triples. Not only does it engage more of the visual areas, but it also fires up parts of the brain specialized in language processing, hearing, and abstract concepts.

    One of the most important new connections that first formed in our ancestors’ brains as they learned to read was between a part of the back of the brain called the angular gyrus an area responsible for association – and areas involved in object recognition. This neuronal breakthrough was the basis for some of the first complex writing systems, which we’ll get to know in the following blinks.

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    What is Proust and the Squid about?

    Proust and the Squid (2007) tells the fascinating story of how the human brain learned to read. From the invention of the first writing systems to our brain’s amazing capacity to rearrange itself, reading expert Maryanna Wolf explains how the incredible skill of reading developed over the course of human history. That is, how it transforms our brains, thoughts, and culture, and why some of us struggle to learn it.

    Proust and the Squid Review

    Proust and the Squid (2007) explores the fascinating world of the reading brain and why it is crucial in our digital age. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It offers a deep dive into the mysteries of the human brain, providing insights into the remarkable process of reading and how it shapes our thinking.
    • Through a blend of scientific research, historical anecdotes, and personal experiences, the book uncovers the profound impact that reading has on our cognition and culture.
    • With its engaging storytelling and thought-provoking ideas, it immerses readers in a journey through language, literature, and the power of the written word, making it anything but boring.

    Best quote from Proust and the Squid

    Human beings were never born to read.

    —Maryanne Wolf
    example alt text

    Who should read Proust and the Squid?

    • Book worms, word nerds, and language lovers
    • Parents and educators who want to encourage children to read 
    • People struggling with dyslexia

    About the Author

    Maryanne Wolf is a scholar and teacher studying reading development. She is director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at the Tufts University in Boston and of the newly created Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Her other books include Tales of Literacy for the 21st Century (2016) and Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World (2018).

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    Proust and the Squid FAQs 

    What is the main message of Proust and the Squid?

    The main message of Proust and the Squid is an exploration of the human brain and its relationship to reading.

    How long does it take to read Proust and the Squid?

    The reading time for Proust and the Squid varies, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Proust and the Squid a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Proust and the Squid is a fascinating book worth reading. It provides insights into the history of reading and the importance of literacy in our lives.

    Who is the author of Proust and the Squid?

    The author of Proust and the Squid is Maryanne Wolf.

    What to read after Proust and the Squid?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Proust and the Squid, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Dialectic of Enlightenment by Max Horkheimer & Theodor W. Adorno
    • Quiet by Susan Cain
    • Reader, Come Home by Maryanne Wolf
    • 10 Days to Faster Reading by The Princeton Language Institute and Abby Marks Beale
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    • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey