Proust and the Squid is an inspiring celebration of the science of reading. In evolutionary terms, reading is a recently acquired cultural invention that uses existing brain structures for a radically new skill. Unlike vision or speech, there is no direct genetic programme passing reading on to future generations. It is an unnatural process that has to be learnt by each individual. As director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University in Boston, Wolf works with readers of all ages, but particularly those with dyslexia, a condition that proves "our brains were never wired to read". Wolf therefore has much of practical value to say about why some people have difficulty reading and how to overcome this. Reading stories to pre-school children is crucial, she says, as it encourages the formation of circuits in the brain, as well as imparting essential information about fighting dragons and marrying princes.
Wolf's story of the development of the reading brain encompasses many fields, from linguistics, archaeology and education to history, literature and neuroscience. The cultural centrality of reading has already been expertly explored, for example in Alberto Manguel's A History of Reading. However, Wolf shows how evolutionary history and cognitive neuroscience are casting new light on "the complex beauty of the reading process".