Peter Brooks

#441: Are We Being Seduced by Stories in Business and Politics?

#441: Are We Being Seduced by Stories in Business and Politics?

The wandering bands of storytelling Sapiens were the most important and most destructive force the animal kingdom had ever produced,” according to Yuval Noah Harari in his remarkable book, Sapiens.

Harari, an Israeli author, public intellectual, historian and professor in the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, says that we Homo sapiens are essentially storytelling monkeys.

We are the only organism we know of that thinks, plans, organizes and acts in story.

Think about it. If you have ever bought a car, did the salesperson try to get you to picture what it would be like to own that car, to have it parked prominently in your driveway?

They, essentially, are getting you to form a mental picture, a fiction at the moment, of what a brighter tomorrow will look like in your spiffy new car.

Politics is no different. President John F. Kennedy painted a remarkable picture of placing a man on the moon and returning him safely home within the decade. His science fiction story led to the $24 billion funding of NASA and winning the space race against the Russians.

But are we too reliant on narratives that brands and politicians feed us daily?

Today’s guest, Peter Brooks, thinks so. He is the author of the new book, Seduced By Story: The Use and Abuse of Narrative. 

Brooks is Sterling Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Yale University, where he was the founding director of the Whitney Humanities Center.

He taught also at the University of Virginia and Princeton, and as a visitor at Oxford, the University of Bologna, and the University of Copenhagen.

Brooks has published on narrative, psychoanalysis, and law, largely in nineteenth and twentieth literature; in addition, he is the author of two novels, World Elsewhere and The Emperor’s Body.

His critical books include The Melodramatic Imagination, Reading for the Plot, Troubling Confessions, Realist Vision, Henry James Goes to Paris, Enigmas of Identity, Flaubert in the Ruins of Paris, and Balzac’s Lives.

So are we being seduced by stories? Marketing guru Seth Gordin believes that stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. 

“They are the currency of human contact.”

Perhaps we are beguiled by the storytelling seductress.

Discussed in this episode:

  1. The pros and cons of selling with narrative.
  2. How George Bush brought storytelling to the White House.
  3. The importance of appreciating where the storyteller is coming from and how their view of the world impacts their stories.


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