Proust and the Squid Book Summary - Proust and the Squid Book explained in key points
Listen to the Intro

Proust and the Squid summary

Maryanne Wolf

The Story and Science of the Reading Brain

4.5 (210 ratings)
25 mins
Table of Contents

    Proust and the Squid
    Summary of 8 key ideas

    Audio & text in the Blinkist app
    Key idea 1 of 8

    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.

    Want to see all full key ideas from Proust and the Squid?

    Key ideas in Proust and the Squid

    More knowledge in less time
    Read or listen
    Read or listen
    Get the key ideas from nonfiction bestsellers in minutes, not hours.
    Find your next read
    Find your next read
    Get book lists curated by experts and personalized recommendations.
    Shortcasts New
    We’ve teamed up with podcast creators to bring you key insights from podcasts.

    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.

    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).

    Categories with Proust and the Squid

    Books like Proust and the Squid

    People ❤️ Blinkist
    Sven O.

    It's highly addictive to get core insights on personally relevant topics without repetition or triviality. Added to that the apps ability to suggest kindred interests opens up a foundation of knowledge.

    Thi Viet Quynh N.

    Great app. Good selection of book summaries you can read or listen to while commuting. Instead of scrolling through your social media news feed, this is a much better way to spend your spare time in my opinion.

    Jonathan A.

    Life changing. The concept of being able to grasp a book's main point in such a short time truly opens multiple opportunities to grow every area of your life at a faster rate.

    Renee D.

    Great app. Addicting. Perfect for wait times, morning coffee, evening before bed. Extremely well written, thorough, easy to use.

    People also liked

    Start growing with Blinkist now
    27 Million
    Downloads on all platforms
    4.7 Stars
    Average ratings on iOS and Google Play
    Of Blinkist members create a better reading habit*
    *Based on survey data from Blinkist customers
    Powerful ideas from top nonfiction

    Try Blinkist to get the key ideas from 7,000+ bestselling nonfiction titles and podcasts. Listen or read in just 15 minutes.

    Start your free trial