Faculty of Arts - English, Drama and Writing Studies

Distinguished Professor Brian Boyd

MA (Cant), PhD (Tor), NZRAH, FRSNZ

Distinguished Professor

Distinguished Professor Brian Boyd

English, Drama and Writing Studies, Humanities

Email: b.boyd@auckland.ac.nz

Extension: 87480 (ph + 64 9 373 7599)

Arts 1 Building
14a Symonds St
Level 6
Room 602

Recent Publications


Online resource

ADA Online. Annotations to Nabokov's Ada.



Why Lyrics Last: Evolution, Cognition, and Shakespeare's Sonnets. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012. x, 227pp.

Reviews and Publisher website

“A most accessible book that blends the local with the vast.”—Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Australian Book Review

“The book showcases Brian Boyd—the Vladimir Nabokov expert and author of the well-received On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction—in brilliant conversation with Brian Boyd, the voluble and energetic reader of evolutionary biology. Boyd-lit offers subtle and capacious readings of the sonnets’ playfulness, their ways of challenging and attracting four centuries of readers. Boyd-bio explores the affinities between the sonnets and science: from terror management theory to male mating efforts, from cognition research to Maori battle songs… The risky leaps that Boyd-bio takes are breathtaking, and open Shakespeare’s art to fresh enquiry… The admirably informed Boyd-lit offers crisp and clear readings of sonnets… Boyd’s valuable syntheses of literature and science range beyond those of A.N. Whitehead, beyond Nabokov perhaps, and certainly beyond the cutting remarks of scientist T.H. Huxley.”—David Gewanter, Times Higher Education

“Boyd proves a delightful guide to the sonnets’ tortuous passages, artfully describing their twists and turns. He compares the sequence to a kaleidoscope that ‘continually taps or shakes its colored chips into new configurations’ at times teasingly reminiscent of nearby sonnets. Without story to seize our attention, Boyd argues, Shakespeare—like all lyric poets—must load his lines with ‘more or less pure patterns of verbal form’ that command our focus at the risk of exhausting it. Displaying a scholar’s skill and an evangelist’s enthusiasm, Boyd points out patterns sonic, semantic and imagistic… His volume marks an intriguing entry point into a line of inquiry that will surely continue to evolve, providing ever more particular reasons for our rhymes.”—Abigail Deutsch, The Wall Street Journal

“The most illuminating book on Shakespeare’s Sonnets since Helen Vendler’s The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.”—Mac Jackson, The University of Auckland

“An impressive work of scholarship…a genuinely original and valuable addition to the substantial body of criticism of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.”—Stanley Wells

“Boyd demonstrates how literary study can, should, and will be done in the future.” —Jonathan Gottschall, Washington and Jefferson College


Origin of Stories

On the Origins of Stories: Evolution, Cognition and Fiction Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009. xiii + 540 pp.

Reviews and publisher website
Read an Excerpt

'may have an impact far beyond academic circles...No one thinks on this scale any more...engrossing, as elegant in the writing as the reasoning...refreshing' (Times Literary Supplement);

'subversive...challenging...might well herald the return to Nature of which cultural criticism is in such sore need' (Terry Eagleton, London Review of Books);

'highly intelligent, impressively learned and patiently elaborated...Diffusion of Boyd's ideas might even restore the prestige of the arts and humanities' (The Nation);

'novel...thought-provoking...an impressive mastery of science and an admirable inclination to question orthodoxy...fascinating' (New Scientist);

'path-breaking' (Boston Globe);

'very important...in its own right, but also...as a marker for significant change in the academic study of the humanities... Boyd is aware that he is throwing down a gauntlet....restores much of what we have lost in literary studies and it does so with intelligence, authority and great promise for the future' (Richard B.Schwartz);

'masterful...entrancing...covers an astonishing range...he has selected judiciously and described the science remarkably accurately and clearly... Boyd gets so much right!' (Gordon Burghardt, The Evolutionary Review).

Nabokov’s Pale Fire: The Magic of Artistic Discovery, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999; paperback, 2001.

Readers’ Subscription Selection
Choice Outstanding Academic Book for 2000 Chapter 1 online

'One of the most remarkable academic books of this season' (National Post);

'essential...startling' (Bloomsbury Review).

Presents of the Past: Literature in English Before 1900, Auckland: Addison Wesley Longman, 1998.

Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991; London: Chatto and Windus, 1992; London: Vintage, 1992.

Reader’s Subscription Selection
Chicago Tribune, Time etc. Book of the Year
Choice Outstanding Academic Book for 1992
Second Prize, Goodman Fielder Wattie Book of the Year Award, 1992

Available in Chinese (Guangxi), French (Gallimard), German (Rowohlt) and Russian (Symposium)

"One of the finest literary biographies of recent years" (Washington Post);

"will never be surpassed" (Guardian);

"a perfect biography" (Nihon Keizai Shimbun)

Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990; London: Chatto and Windus, 1990; London: Vintage, 1991.

Reader’s Subscription Selection
New York Times Notable Book of the Year; Chicago Tribune,Time etc. Book of the Year
Choice Outstanding Academic Book for 1991
Third Prize, Goodman Fielder Wattie Book of the Year Award, 1991
Einhard Prize for Biography, 2001

Available in Chinese (Guangxi), French (Gallimard), German (Rowohlt), Japanese (Misuzu shobo), Russian (Symposium), Spanish (Anagrama)

"A paradigm of biographical excellence", (San Francisco Chronicle)

Nabokov’s Ada: The Place of Consciousness, Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1985: ix, 245pp.

Revised and expanded edition: cybereditions.com: 2001: 352 pp.

"Magnificent" (Washington Post);

"an instant classic" (Nabokov Studies).

 Books (as editor)

With Joseph Carroll and Jonathan Gottschall. Evolution, Literature and Film: A Reader. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. 570pp.
With Stanislav Shvabrin. Vladimir Nabokov, Verses and Versions: Three Hundred Years of Russian Poetry Selected and Translated by Vladimir Nabokov. New York: Harcourt, 2008. 480pp.
Words That Count: Essays on Early Modern Authorship in Honor of MacDonald P. Jackson, Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2004. 310pp.

With Robert Michael Pyle. Nabokov's Butterflies: Unpublished and Uncollected Writings, Boston: Beacon Press, and London: Allen Lane/Penguin, 2000. xiv, 783pp. Paperback: London: Penguin, 2001.


Nabokov: Novels 1969-1974: Ada, Transparent Things, Look at the Harlequins!, New York: Library of America, 1996. 824 pp.
Nabokov: Novels 1955-1962: Lolita, Pnin, Pale Fire, Lolita: A Screenplay, New York: Library of America, 1996. 904 pp.
Nabokov: Novels and Memoirs 1941-1951: The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Bend Sinister, Speak, Memory, New York: Library of America, 1996. 710 pp.

Introductions and afterwords

On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition and Fiction, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009. xiii + 540 pp.
Vladimir Nabokov, Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle, London: Penguin, 2000.
Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited, New York: Knopf, and London: Everyman, 1999. Introduction and selection.




"'My Most Difficult Book': The Making of Lolita," BBC documentary (1989) dir. by Christopher Sykes, with Martin Amis, Brian Boyd, A.S. Byatt, Dmitri and Véra Nabokov and Edmund White


Brian Boyd in "'My Most Difficult Book': The Making of Lolita," BBC documentary (1989) dir. by Christopher Sykes

Selected downloadable articles

"Art and Selection" Critical Discussion of Denis Dutton, The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure and Evolution." Philosophy and Literature, 33:1 (2009), 204-220.

"Purpose-Driven Life" American Scholar, 78:2 (Spring 2009), 24-34.

"The Storytelling Ape" Lecture 6 in The Darwin Lectures, Royal Society of New Zealand, Radio New Zealand National, September 28, 2008.

"Art and Evolution: Spiegelman's The Narrative Corpse" Philosophy and Literature, 32:1 (Spring 2008), 31-57.

"The Art of Literature and the Science of Literature" American Scholar, 77:2 (Spring 2008), 118-27.

"Artistic Animals: Common and Unique Features of Music and Visual Arts" In Ian North, ed. Visual Animals: Crossovers, Evolution and New Aesthetics. Adelaide: Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, 2007, 15-26.

"Nabokov Studies: Strategic Development of the Field and Scholarly Cooperation: A Roundtable Discussion" Brian Boyd, Jeff Edmunds, Maria Malikova, Leona Toker. NOJ/Nozh: Nabokov Online Journal, 1:1 (Spring 2007), [1]-[18].

"Literature and Science: Doomed Reductionism or Evolutionary Literary Pluralism?" Review of Jon Adams, Interference Patterns: Literary Study, Scientific Knowledge, and Disciplinary Autnomy. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2007. Evolutionary Psychology, 6:1 (2008), 80-84.

"Lolita: What We Know and What We Don't" Cycnos, 24 (2007), 215-28.

"Getting It All Wrong: Bioculture Critiques Cultural Critique" American Scholar, 75 Autumn 2006, 18-30.

"Fiction and Theory of Mind" Review-article on Lisa Zunshine, Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2006. Philosophy and Literature 30:2, 571-581.

"Evolutionary Theories of Art" In Jonathan Gottschall and David Sloan Wilson, eds., The Literary Animal. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2005, 149-78.

"Literature and Evolution: A Biocultural Approach" Philosophy and Literature 29:1 (2005), 1-23.

"Ada, the Bog and the Garden: or, Straw, Fluff, and Peat: Sources and Places in Ada" Nabokov Studies 8 (2004), 107-33.

"Laughter and Literature: A Play Theory of Humor" Philosophy and Literature 28 (2004),1-22.

"The Origin of Stories: Horton Hears a Who" Philosophy and Literature 25, (October 2001), 197-214.

"Nabokov's Butterflies: Introduction" Atlantic Monthly, April 2000, 51-56.

"Literature and Discovery" Philosophy and Literature, 23 (October 1999), 274-94.

"Jane, Meet Charles: Literature, Evolution and Human Nature" Philosophy and Literature, 22 (April 1998), 1-30.

"Shade and Shape in Pale Fire" Nabokov Studies, 4 (1997), 173-224.

"'Even Homais Nods': Nabokov's Fallibility, Or, How to Revise Lolita" Nabokov Studies, 2 (1995), 60-85.

Selected interviews and introductions online

Brian Boyd introduces Richard Dawkins at The University of Auckland, March 13, 2010

Brian Boyd interviews Richard Dawkins at The University of Auckland, March 12, 2010
Part One
Part Two

Interview with Kathryn Ryan, "Nine to Noon" National Radio (New Zealand), 19 May 2009.

Interview with David Hall. "The Nabokovian" The Listener. November 8, 2008. 36-38.

Interview with Sarah L'Estrange, Book Show, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, February 15, 2008.

Interview with Matias Serra Bradford, "La verdadera vida de VN" DiarioPerfil, 8 July 2007.

Interview by Thomas Bolt, Bomb 71 (Spring 2000), 80-85.

Audio Interview on Vladimir Nabokov with Don Swaim, 1991.

Internet sites


Literature and Evolution (forthcoming)

Nabokov: Verses and Versions

Contributions to internet sites


Vladimir Nabokov: His Life and Time New York Times Book Forum


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