If we define someone’s influence as how much they can shape people’s thoughts and goals, Adam Grant says J.K. Rowling is in a league of her own.
Thanks to her “Harry Potter” books, millions of young readers have been trained in social and emotional skills that policymakers are only starting to get behind.
Grant, a professor at Wharton Business School and author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, recently bestowed the title of “most influential” on Rowling in a Q&A on the open forum site Parlio.
Not counting the Bible, “Harry Potter has reached more people than any other book series in history,” Grant points out. “Never mind the movies, merchandising, and other sources of contact.”
Worldwide, “Harry Potter” books have sold more than 450 million copies. The next highest series is “Lord of the Rings,” by J.R.R. Tolkien, at a comparably paltry 150 million copies.
But Rowling isn’t just the most influential because she moves a lot of paper, Grant argues. It’s how her books affect kids, both in the moment and for life.
“It affects them when they’re young and impressionable — and has inspired an entire generation to read, opening the door to many other avenues for education,” he says.
Some adults certainly read novels as a form of escape, but great novels suck you in. Science backs it up.
Psychological research suggests that, by stepping inside the mind of a main character, reading makes us more empathetic. We consider alternative points of view and see the rationale behind choices that we may never face firsthand.
More than that, “Harry Potter” has been found to be especially helpful in reducing kids’ latent biases: Perspective-taking, wrote researchers of a 2014 study, “emerged as the process allowing attitude improvement” toward immigrants, homosexuals, and refugees when people sided with Harry over Voldemort.
The stories may take place in fantastical worlds, but its relatable themes get kids thinking positively about the Earth they inhabit.
“Ms. Rowling,” Grant says, addressing the author, “the world would be a better place if you kept writing ‘Harry Potter’ books.”
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