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"One of our most versatile and gripping science writers." John Carey


The Modern Myths: Adventures in the Machinery of the Popular Imagination

Myths are usually seen as stories from the depths of time—fun and fantastical, but no longer believed by anyone. Yet as Philip Ball shows, we are still writing them—and still living them—today. From Robinson Crusoe and Frankenstein to Batman, many stories written in the past few centuries are commonly, perhaps glibly, called “modern myths.” But Ball argues that we should take that idea seriously. Our stories of Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Sherlock Holmes are doing the kind of cultural work that the ancient myths once did. Through the medium of narratives that all of us know in their basic outline and which have no clear moral or resolution, these modern myths explore some of our deepest fears, dreams, and anxieties. We keep returning to these tales, reinventing them endlessly for new uses. But what are they really about, and why do we need them? What myths are still taking shape today? And what makes a story become a modern myth?

In The Modern Myths, Ball takes us on a wide-ranging tour of our collective imagination, asking what some of its most popular stories reveal about the nature of being human in the modern age.


"The Modern Myths is a very impressive piece of writing. It is sharp. It is witty. It is deeply insightful in too many places to list. Ball’s erudition on these topics is extraordinary... A very fine study of seven really important stories in modern literature, fantasy, and film."—Jeffrey J. Kripal, author of Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal.


Published by University of Chicago Press, Spring 2021

Philip Ball is a writer. Most of his books are concerned with science in some form or another: its history, its interactions with the arts and society, its achievements, delights and detours. He is a regular columnist for several magazines and an occasional radio presenter and broadcaster. He was an editor of Nature for many years, and long ago, a chemist and physicist of sorts.

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