Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf - review by Philip Davis

Philip Davis

Mind Over Matter

Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain


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This is a silly title for a good book. Telling her story of the evolution of ‘the reading brain’, Maryanne Wolf, Director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University, has little to say about squids at the lower end of the scale and not much of interest about Proust at the higher. But she does insist that reading ‘does not come as naturally to our children as vision or spoken language, which are pre-programmed’. Evolution primed human brains for oral language but not for the extraction of meaning from print. There are no genes specific to reading. ‘We were never born to read.’

It is a claim that Wolf, as a cognitive neuroscientist, employs in order to strengthen a realisation of the extraordinary effect that the invention of reading has had upon the very circuitry of the human brain, forming new connections and releasing new mental abilities. It also explains why children find

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