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The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century PDF, ePub eBook


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Title: The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century
Author: Steven Pinker
Publisher: Published September 30th 2014 by Viking (first published September 4th 2014)
ISBN: 9780670025855
Status : FREE Rating :
4.6 out of 5

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A short and entertaining book on the modern art of writing well by New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker Why is so much writing so bad, and how can we make it better? Is the English language being corrupted by texting and social media? Do the kids today even care about good writing? Why should any of us care? In The Sense of Style, the bestselling linguist and co A short and entertaining book on the modern art of writing well by New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker Why is so much writing so bad, and how can we make it better? Is the English language being corrupted by texting and social media? Do the kids today even care about good writing? Why should any of us care? In The Sense of Style, the bestselling linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker answers these questions and more. Rethinking the usage guide for the twenty-first century, Pinker doesn’t carp about the decline of language or recycle pet peeves from the rulebooks of a century ago. Instead, he applies insights from the sciences of language and mind to the challenge of crafting clear, coherent, and stylish prose. In this short, cheerful, and eminently practical book, Pinker shows how writing depends on imagination, empathy, coherence, grammatical knowhow, and an ability to savor and reverse engineer the good prose of others. He replaces dogma about usage with reason and evidence, allowing writers and editors to apply the guidelines judiciously, rather than robotically, being mindful of what they are designed to accomplish. Filled with examples of great and gruesome prose, Pinker shows us how the art of writing can be a form of pleasurable mastery and a fascinating intellectual topic in its own right.

30 review for The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century

  1. 5 out of 5

    David

    I have enjoyed every one of Steven Pinker's books, and this one is no exception. Pinker writes engagingly, with humor, with intelligence, and with authority. He is the chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, so he has useful insights into how the English language is being used in print. As a linguist, he not only knows all the "rules" of writing, he understands the logic (or illogic) behind them. Moreover, he understands which "rules" are real, and which ones were just drea I have enjoyed every one of Steven Pinker's books, and this one is no exception. Pinker writes engagingly, with humor, with intelligence, and with authority. He is the chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, so he has useful insights into how the English language is being used in print. As a linguist, he not only knows all the "rules" of writing, he understands the logic (or illogic) behind them. Moreover, he understands which "rules" are real, and which ones were just dreamed up for the heck of it. Pinker shows how many writers fall into a wide range of traps. The chief trap is the curse of knowledge. This occurs when a writer assumes that his reader knows as much as himself. Some people believe that opaque writing is a deliberate choice. Pseudo-intellectuals often dress up their writings with "highfalutin gobbledygook, as shown in this cartoon: But even sincere, intelligent writers can overestimate their readers' knowledge, and this leads to lots of wasted effort. Pinker discusses the old-fashioned technique of diagramming a sentence. This technique used to be taught in schools, but he shows that the technique is not the best. He introduces a tree technique that focuses not on the parts of speech, but on the internal structure of a sentence and the relationships between its components. The focus is more on clarity, rather than on grammar. Pinker also puts great stock on the quality of coherence. Do sentences fit together, with one leading logically to the next? Are relationships between ideas written clearly, or are they muddled with sloppy organization? Pinker shows how a writer can organize his ideas and make the reader's job easier. I learned some fascinating stuff. People confuse the "past tense" with "past time." For example, I learned that the past tense of the words can, will, may, and shall, are could, would, might, and should. Pinker makes it clear when to use one of these words rather than the other. Some rules, like forbidding the use of a preposition at the end of a sentence, or splitting infinitives with an adverb, are simply superstitions. The choice of where to place a preposition, or when to split an infinitive, should depend on clarity and not on someone's say-so. Throughout the book, there are side-by-side comparisons between sentences showing two options. The version on the left is usually ungrammatical or unclear, while the corrected version on the right is generally a better example. Pinker discusses the reasons why one alternative is better than the other, and the reasons have nothing to do with blindly following rules; the reasons always explain why one version is clearer or more easily understood. If you are a writer, then you will want to read this book. If you are not a writer, but simply curious about language--as I am--then this book can also feed your curiosity. Highly recommended!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bradley

    I was thoroughly charmed by this well-written guide on how to write better. :) Maybe it's because real language changes. Maybe it's because true clarity comes from the spaces between the words and not absolutely from the rules about the words. But that's not to say that this cogent discussion on grammar isn't rife with practical examples and great reflection, because it does. It just happens to bring up the fact that one generation's Haberdash is another's charming fireside chat. Moreover, it use I was thoroughly charmed by this well-written guide on how to write better. :) Maybe it's because real language changes. Maybe it's because true clarity comes from the spaces between the words and not absolutely from the rules about the words. But that's not to say that this cogent discussion on grammar isn't rife with practical examples and great reflection, because it does. It just happens to bring up the fact that one generation's Haberdash is another's charming fireside chat. Moreover, it uses humor, skepticism, and common sense to throw out the grammar nazism and return us back to the firm hand of insight and delight. For writing should not be a chore. It should edify, clarify, and wrap us up in a warm comforter and hand us a favorite beverage and ramble on about what it really loved about its day. Am I clear? Rules are for chumps, yo. But learn them first before you break them. :) (Advice I think I will always have to take to heart.)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    It started well. Your brain will finish the rest of that sentence. Or so Steven Pinker explains. The best way to describe this book is as a style guide that relies on neuroscience. Instead of admonishments based on grammar, old rules, and urban myths, Pinker explains the best way to write based on how our brain understand words on a page. Which makes this one of the more readable style guides out there in that it has a purpose instead of just being a list of literary taboos. But the list of taboos It started well. Your brain will finish the rest of that sentence. Or so Steven Pinker explains. The best way to describe this book is as a style guide that relies on neuroscience. Instead of admonishments based on grammar, old rules, and urban myths, Pinker explains the best way to write based on how our brain understand words on a page. Which makes this one of the more readable style guides out there in that it has a purpose instead of just being a list of literary taboos. But the list of taboos makes an appearance in the last third. And then it becomes just another style guide that's better for reference than for reading. Pinker doesn't provide bad advice here - he comes down in favour of the Oxford comma so I'm already a fan - but the scientific explanations make fewer appearances and the whole thing just becomes a little less interesting. He retains a sense of style throughout, which will carry you, just, to the end. Also on Twitter

  4. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    Steven Pinker has created a writer's guide that is interesting, useful, amusing, and also frustrating. I enjoyed the first part of this book, but the middle section got bogged down in parsing sentences and grammar exercises. I put the book down and took a week-long break from it, and debated whether to pick it up again. I finally did finish, but it was a slog. My big takeaways from this book were 1) language is constantly changing, and the English language is so inventive that when the grammar po Steven Pinker has created a writer's guide that is interesting, useful, amusing, and also frustrating. I enjoyed the first part of this book, but the middle section got bogged down in parsing sentences and grammar exercises. I put the book down and took a week-long break from it, and debated whether to pick it up again. I finally did finish, but it was a slog. My big takeaways from this book were 1) language is constantly changing, and the English language is so inventive that when the grammar police come hollerin' at you that you've written something wrong, chances are there is a dispute over what is correct. 2) Few things in language are correct, and even then, if enough people adopt that word or style, it may eventually be considered correct. 3) This knowledge won't stop the grammar fussbudgets from complaining that "people used to write better," which is also nonsense. Language and writing are created by mankind, and creative writers love to break the rules, so 4) the fussbudgets need to knock it off, already. I listened to this book on audio, and I think the boggy sections might have been less frustrating (and easier to skim) if I had read that section in print. Recommended, with reservations, for those who like writers writing about writing. Opening Passage "I love style manuals. Ever since I was assigned Strunk and White's The Elements of Style in an introductory psychology course, the writing guide has been among my favorite literary genres. It's not just that I welcome advice on the lifelong challenge of perfecting the craft of writing. It's also that credible guidance on writing must itself be well written, and the best of the manuals are paragons of their own advice. William Strunk's course notes on writing, which his student E. B. White turned into their famous little book, was studded with gems of self-exemplifcation such as "Write with nouns and verbs," "Put the emphatic words of a sentence at the end," and best of all, his prime directive, "Omit needless words."

  5. 5 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    I’ve long admired Pinker’s poise with the pen. Both The Blank Slate and The Language Instinct (the two books of his I’d before read) are, in my opinion at least, conspicuously well-written. Popular science is, contrary to what one might expect, a difficult genre; the writer must take complex ideas from esoteric subjects—ideas usually mired in technical terminology—and release them from their provincial prisons. Added to this complicated task of exegesis, the writer of popular science must also w I’ve long admired Pinker’s poise with the pen. Both The Blank Slate and The Language Instinct (the two books of his I’d before read) are, in my opinion at least, conspicuously well-written. Popular science is, contrary to what one might expect, a difficult genre; the writer must take complex ideas from esoteric subjects—ideas usually mired in technical terminology—and release them from their provincial prisons. Added to this complicated task of exegesis, the writer of popular science must also work hard to entertain; for popular science, like popular music, isn’t a success unless it sells. So when I heard that Pinker had just come out with a style guide, I quite naturally noticed; as I am in perfect agreement with Pinker when he says: I love style manuals. Ever since I was assigned Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style in an introductory psychology course, the writing guide has been among my favorite literary genres. It’s not just that I welcome advice on the lifelong challenge of perfecting the craft of writing. It’s also that credible guidance on writing must itself be well written, and the best of the manuals are paragons of their own advice. So, with my usual overblown expectations, I cracked open the pages of this book, hoping to hear secrets from a professional. I will spoil the surprise and say that I was a bit disappointed; the book was quite good, but could have been much better. So allow me, if you will, to go through it chapter by chapter, noting the good, the bad, and the boring. This book starts out strong. Pinker acknowledges what I wish more style guides would: that the foundation of good writing is not abiding by “proper” grammar, nor mastering some rhetorical tricks, but is simply being a sensitive reader. In this vein, Pinker chooses four examples of good writing, and pulls them apart, providing us with a quick glimpse inside Pinker’s readerly mind. (Speaking for myself, I think I’ve learned more about the art of writing from acquiring the habit of writing down attractive quotations than from all of the style guides put together.) Pinker also acknowledges something that many guides do not address: that most guides are not properly guides to writing, but to revising. Perhaps there are some who naturally speak in balanced phrases and arresting metaphors; but for most of us, elegance is a product of careful reworking, of obsessive rewriting, of assiduous editing. Pinker’s next two chapters are also strong. First, he discusses a certain philosophy of style: Classic Style. This view is guided by two metaphors: conversation and vision. The writer of classic prose treats the reader as a conversation partner—that is, as an equal. Thus, new information is not presented as oracular pronouncements, but as a guiding of the reader’s eye to previously unexamined bits of terrain—just like one might tell an interesting factoid to a friend. The implication is that the knowledge was there all along, and that the reader only needed the kindly writer to direct his gaze. It is unsurprising that Pinker chooses this view to endorse; this style is well-suited for popular nonfiction (and book reviews), what with its emphasis on concreteness, simplicity, and directness. Of course, no philosophy of style could embrace all genres (imagine how boring the world would be if everyone wrote like Pinker?). With that caveat on mind, I thought this view, and Pinker’s presentation of it, very attractive. Next, Pinker discusses what he calls the Curse of Knowledge. This is simply the difficulty that we all have in imagining what it's like not to know something we do know. This has been proven in experiment, but daily life is full of copious examples: how many times have instructions from a teacher or a boss struck you as ambiguous, vague, confusing? People aren't good at giving instructions because they aren't good at imagining what it's like to need instructions for something they know how to do. And even when people are made aware of this tendency—namely, the tendency to assume that other people are aware of the same knowledge as are you—they aren’t very good at making the leap to clarity. The only remedy, Pinker suggests, is an outside editor: “Social psychologists have found that we are overconfident, sometimes to the point of delusion, about our ability to infer what other people think, even the people who are closest to us. Only when we ask those people do we discover that what’s obvious to us isn’t obvious to them. That’s why professional writers have editors.” (Speaking for myself again, it’s an alarming experience to have somebody single out a sentence as being obscure, which you found, after copious editing, to be clear as day.) The next chapter is where the book petered out. Pinker, perhaps himself suffering from the curse of knowledge, launches into an explanation of the tree-like nature of grammatical relationships. For readers of The Language Instinct, this will be partially old ground. His presentation here, however, is somehow less compelling. The tree diagrams struck me as unnecessary; I don’t need a picture to understand why “The impact, which theories of economics predict are bound to be felt sooner or later, could be enormous” is wrong. Further, I don’t need tree diagrams to understand the utility of passive voice, or why sentences like this one, penned by Bob Dole, should be avoided: “The view that beating a third-rate Serbian military that for the third time in a decade is brutally targeting civilians is hardly worth the effort is not based on a lack of understanding of what is occurring on the ground.” In short, in Pinker's attempt to make the subject of grammar more clear using linguistics, his explanations became tiresome and superfluous. With chapter 5, the book begins to be interesting once more. Here, Pinker discusses the art of composition on a larger scale—how to put ideas into an orderly succession, how to signal transitions of topic, etc. He has some sensible things to say, but nothing very new, I’m afraid. It is, however, inevitable that there be a large degree of overlap between style guides. Good writing is, of course, various in style and form; but certain lessons are basic, such as how to arrange points coherently. Then we get to the final chapter, which occupies almost half the book. I predict that this chapter will be either the most useful or the most tedious for readers: if you write often, this will seem like the real meat; but if you don’t, it will seem pointless and pedantic. What Pinker does here is disassemble, point by point, many of the bugbears and hobgoblins of purists, such as the proverbial split infinitive. These rules, as Pinker points out, are usually based on linguistic and historical ignorance, adopted only because their proponents have been vituperative and vocal, not because the rules were reflective of good writing. I personally feel a kind of Schadenfreude seeing Pinker make know-it-alls sound like fools, but perhaps I am just particularly sadistic. Pinker is, however, careful to make a subtle point: just because there are some bad rules, doesn’t mean that all rules should be flouted: Phony rules, which proliferate like urban legends and are just as hard to eradicate, are responsible for vast amounts of ham-fisted copyediting and smarty-pants one-upmanship. Yet when language scholars try to debunk the spurious rules, the dichotomizing mindset imagines that they are trying to abolish all standards of good writing. It is as if anyone who proposed repealing a stupid law, like the one forbidding interracial marriage, must be a black-cloaked, bomb-clutching anarchist. So Pinker is not saying there are no rules to language, and no common characteristics to good writing; all he is saying is that these rules and advice should be based on evidence, not ignorance. Clearly, if Pinker didn’t think there were any common characteristics of good writing, he wouldn’t write a style guide. (And, while I’m at it, if he didn’t think that cultural and environmental influences were important—as some people who accuse him of being a genetic deterministic claim—then he wouldn’t write a style guide, either.) Style guides are stuck in a bit of a paradox. This book is aimed at somebody who reads and writes habitually; it is full of technical advice for the frequent practitioner. Thus, Pinker isn't working as hard to be as entertaining as in his other books, so the tone is somewhat more dry than in, say, The Blank Slate; this quite naturally restricts his readership to a subset of those who often write. On the other hand, if you read and write much, Pinker won’t say much that is surprising; frequent practice gives one a feel for the correct and the spurious rule, the elegant and the jumbled grammatical form. Thus, Pinker is in the odd position of delivering a sermon to a congregation of priests: the nonwriter will be bored because the advice is irrelevant, and the writer will be bored because the advice is old news. But I'll admit that Pinker did clear up some things I was a bit shaky on. For example, the rules governing singular and plural can get a little hairy. We say “The mac and cheese is,” but “Fred and Joe are”—because mac and cheese is treated as one thing, whereas Fred and Joe are two separate things. But what about phrases less common than mac and cheese, such as “flora and fauna”? I recently encountered this very problem when writing a review of Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle: I was unsure whether to say “the flora and fauna is,” or “the flora and fauna are.” Are they two separate things, or one inclusive thing like mac and cheese? Or consider other ambiguous cases, like with the word “or.” What’s better: “Was the bicycle or the scooters damaged?” or “Were the bicycle or the scooters damaged?” Both sound a bit odd to me. Perhaps the biggest drawback of this book, aside from the tree diagrams, was simply the formatting. It’s laid out like a work of popular science, not a work of reference; thus, it would be fairly tedious to look up any specific questions one had. For that reason, I can’t see it becoming terribly influential; writers can’t point to a specific bullet-point or principle in order to debate punctilious copy-editors. That’s a shame, because Pinker has some really useful things to say on the subject. Writing is hard enough without dogmatic pedants screaming in your ear. But while I don't think this book is destined for classic status, it is still certainly worth reading. Pinker manages to present a nuanced, evidence-based view of grammar, while upholding the values that all careful readers and writers hold dear: consistency, clarity, and grace.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Genevieve

    * Originally reviewed on the Night Owls Press blog here. * Heads-up, editors. In The Sense of Style, author Steven Pinker challenges every authoritarian grammarian and language purist who has held sway over the rules of the English language with their dogmatic style books. A psycholinguist by profession, Pinker is a scholar of the science of language. So it's no surprise that The Sense of Style feels like a modern alternative to the classic but tired guides of Strunk and White and others. In my d * Originally reviewed on the Night Owls Press blog here. * Heads-up, editors. In The Sense of Style, author Steven Pinker challenges every authoritarian grammarian and language purist who has held sway over the rules of the English language with their dogmatic style books. A psycholinguist by profession, Pinker is a scholar of the science of language. So it's no surprise that The Sense of Style feels like a modern alternative to the classic but tired guides of Strunk and White and others. In my days as an English undergrad, Strunk and White's The Elements of Style was the biblical tome of writing. But Pinker arrives with this iconoclastic book to show us that sometimes rules can be tone-deaf to what really makes for transparent and compelling prose. Purists often forget that the English language is rife with idiosyncrasies that can't be fit so neatly into rule boxes. You'll see the best kind of rule-breaking among poets and novelists, who often have the better "ear" and feel for language than your clumsy grammarian. Language is chiefly a medium for expression, not just an embodiment of rules. Literature's most gifted writers have often 'broken' the rules using constructions that might have been edited into sterility by heavy-handed editors. The expressive possibilities of language often rely on the rules being bent. As you can see, this book isn't your typical manual on grammar and usage. You won't find a list of dos and don'ts in an effort to indoctrinate. Pinker shows us instead that unthinking adherence to manuals actually makes for bad, clunky writing. For example, one of the signature rules in writing is to avoid using the passive voice at all costs. But Pinker argues that if you change every passive sentence into an active one, you're not necessarily improving the prose. The main problem is that the passive construction exists for a purpose—but most people don't know when to use it effectively. Sure, both active and passive constructions convey the same information but they have cognitive differences because of the order of information given. Pinker's rule of thumb: Passive is the preferred construction when the affected entity (the item that receives the action) is the topic of the preceding discussion or when the agent of action is irrelevant to the discussion. In other words, good writing is about having a "sense," about letting your communication goals dictate the writing. This book isn't for beginners. Pinker is clear in the Introduction about this and writes that this book is for experienced writers. You will benefit the most from this book if you are a relatively experienced writer and reader, and are familiar with the basic rules of language and grammar. You have to know the rules in order to bend them with style and with compelling reason, to know when to take advantage of loopholes and irregularities. The "sense" in The Sense of Style is knowing how a masterful writer moves fluidly between logical rules and combinations, and knows those idiomatic usages and irregularities. The book is packed with examples and is wonderfully readable, which surprised me. Pinker is great at reverse engineering passages and illuminating what writers have done well (or not done well) to convey their ideas. Take lots of notes! For those who still crave the utility of a reference manual, the later chapters in the book include lists of words and rules that can be bent and those that can't (in Pinker's opinion). Or, for a bite-size taste of the grammar rules Pinker explores in this book, check out this article by Pinker in The Guardian. Overall, a great, informative read. I'll be keeping this on my reference shelf. [Disclaimer: I received an ARC copy of this book from the publisher through the Goodreads First Reads Program in exchange for an honest review.]

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jimmy

    Chapter 1 summary: 1. Insist on fresh wording and concrete imagery over familiar verbiage and abstract summary. 2. Pay attention to the readers' vantage point and the target of their gaze. 3. Use the judicious placement of an uncommon word or idiom against a backdrop of simple nouns and verbs. 4. Use parallel syntax. 5. Have an occasional planned surprise. 6. Present a telling detail that obviates an explicit pronouncement. 7. Use meter and sound that resonates with the meaning and mood. Chapter Chapter 1 summary: 1. Insist on fresh wording and concrete imagery over familiar verbiage and abstract summary. 2. Pay attention to the readers' vantage point and the target of their gaze. 3. Use the judicious placement of an uncommon word or idiom against a backdrop of simple nouns and verbs. 4. Use parallel syntax. 5. Have an occasional planned surprise. 6. Present a telling detail that obviates an explicit pronouncement. 7. Use meter and sound that resonates with the meaning and mood. Chapter 2 summary: 1. The author calls attention to habits that "result in soggy prose": metadiscourse, signposting, hedging, apologizing, professional narcissism, cliches, mixed metaphors, metaconcepts, zombie nouns, and unnecessary passives. 2. "The writer, in conversation with a reader, directs the reader's gaze to something in the world." Each of don'ts in #1 make a writer stray. Chapter 3 summary: 1. Be careful of sharing knowledge that your reader does not understand. Chapter 4 summary: 1. Learn grammar and syntax. 2. Avoid unnecessary words and phrases. 3. Avoid sentences beginning with "there is" or "it is." 4. That does not mean cutting out every single word that is redundant in context. 5. Make use of structural parallelism and understand its rules. 6. Pull unrelated (but mutually attracted) phrases apart to avoid confusion. 7. Save the heaviest for last in a sentence. 8. "Topic, then comment" or "Given, then new." Chapter 5 summary: 1. Monologophobia is the fear of using the same word more than once. On the other hand, "elegant variation" is using different words to identify the same thing. Both can be a problem. 2. Coherence is important. A lengthy discussion about this one. For example, it is important NOT to begin with what something is NOT. So after you read this, do NOT think about a white bear. 3. "A coherent text is a designed object." Chapter 6 summary: 1. An alphabetical list of common problems in grammar. Be sure to read this carefully and follow all suggestions otherwise the planets in our solar system will implode on each other and we will all die. And you do not want to be responsible for that one, do you? For a book about writing, this was a real slog to plod through.

  8. 5 out of 5

    David Huff

    Having just embarked on a fairly intensive writing course, I asked my mentor for some recommendations of books on the craft of writing. This book, "The Sense of Style" was at the top of his list, and I can see why. The author, Steven Pinker, is a Psychology professor at Harvard, and has also done much research on language and cognition (he's described as a Cognitive Scientist). Further, he is chair of the Usage Panel of The American Heritage Dictionary. And it shows. All of it. He has written a v Having just embarked on a fairly intensive writing course, I asked my mentor for some recommendations of books on the craft of writing. This book, "The Sense of Style" was at the top of his list, and I can see why. The author, Steven Pinker, is a Psychology professor at Harvard, and has also done much research on language and cognition (he's described as a Cognitive Scientist). Further, he is chair of the Usage Panel of The American Heritage Dictionary. And it shows. All of it. He has written a very readable, engaging, and entertaining manual on writing, providing a wealth of information which will help anyone write better prose. He also goes into considerable detail on the mechanics of good writing, including syntax, noun piles, quantifiers, remote conditionals .... you get the idea. Even though he goes quite deep on the technical side, he is very generous with clear, helpful examples of everything, a good many of which are laugh out loud funny. I found the book to be a solid 4 or 4.5, but the final chapter, "Telling Right From Wrong", was a lengthy and very practical compendium of many additional illustrations and applications that took it to a 5. If you are interested in becoming a better writer, you will benefit from this book!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Amir Tesla

    Superb book on writing.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Amir The Fat Bookworm

    A great book on the considerations for writing non-fiction. This book was written with the amazing style of Pinker's usual writings and it was about that style and practical advice to improve one's writings. I am implementing the lessons I've learned from pinker in my writing process for my blog. And it improved my effectiveness to a great degree. It is worth knowing that most advice on the book contains pretty solid arguments for them. So you can use the arguments to find ways to improve writing A great book on the considerations for writing non-fiction. This book was written with the amazing style of Pinker's usual writings and it was about that style and practical advice to improve one's writings. I am implementing the lessons I've learned from pinker in my writing process for my blog. And it improved my effectiveness to a great degree. It is worth knowing that most advice on the book contains pretty solid arguments for them. So you can use the arguments to find ways to improve writing, regardless of what language you are writing with.

  11. 4 out of 5

    ♥ Ibrahim ♥

    This book was recommended to me by Professor Geoff Pullum, a grammarian of the highest caliber. I asked him for a book to recommend instead of Strunk & White that he, within good reason frowns upon. It is such a relief to know that we don't need a rigid book of style in order to be good writers. We need a "sense" of style instead, that sense that helps me to cook Egyptian rice like no other, as the women of Egypt would call it "el-nafas", that is, the "breath". Pinker is a genius and whateve This book was recommended to me by Professor Geoff Pullum, a grammarian of the highest caliber. I asked him for a book to recommend instead of Strunk & White that he, within good reason frowns upon. It is such a relief to know that we don't need a rigid book of style in order to be good writers. We need a "sense" of style instead, that sense that helps me to cook Egyptian rice like no other, as the women of Egypt would call it "el-nafas", that is, the "breath". Pinker is a genius and whatever he writes is gold. His book reads like a book written by a linguist with great emphasis on cognitive science. He would read so well and you feel like he makes a lot of sense till he gets too deep and then you can't help but cry for help, "Dr Pinker, Dr Pinker, you have lost me this time. Could we make it more simple once again?" All the more reason to read a book like this more than once and don't read it please looking for recipes of good English style but looking for the "sense" that is the theme of his book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Afloarei

    Un geniu și un must read pentru orice tip de scriitor. Recenzia aici: https://youtu.be/L0c3cXcuzXY

  13. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Thanks to a Goodreads Firstreads giveaway, I had a chance to read an advanced copy of Pinker's Sense of Style. My thoughts on the book are a bit mixed. Here goes: The Good: --Well, let's be honest--I just read a stylebook cover to cover; it must have SOMETHING going for it! --I found Pinker's wit to be on full display here, and that was a welcome addition to what can sometimes become dry material (i.e., talk of grammar). Pinker's wit is at its best when he slyly breaks all the grammar rules he's di Thanks to a Goodreads Firstreads giveaway, I had a chance to read an advanced copy of Pinker's Sense of Style. My thoughts on the book are a bit mixed. Here goes: The Good: --Well, let's be honest--I just read a stylebook cover to cover; it must have SOMETHING going for it! --I found Pinker's wit to be on full display here, and that was a welcome addition to what can sometimes become dry material (i.e., talk of grammar). Pinker's wit is at its best when he slyly breaks all the grammar rules he's discussing in the midst of discussing them only to reveal the trick a paragraph later. An instance of the old aphorism "form follows function" at its best. --In a piece of writing I completed this week, I found myself utilizing advice I'd read in this book and/or considering the constructions of my sentences based on the logic Pinker provides in the book. If a stylebook--a utilitarian genre if there ever was one--turns out to be useful, that certainly bodes well for it. The Not-so-good: --I found the structure/form of the book to be a bit two-headed. It was as though the book couldn't decide whether it wanted to be a scholarly monograph about style (to be read cover-to-cover) or a textbook/reference book (to be consulted piecemeal). I chose to approach the book as a monograph; however, I found that there were chapters that read like a monograph and chapters that read like a reference book. Needless to say, the "referencey" chapters were not quite as read-able. --In addition, several of the chapters were far too long to be useful in a textbook setting. Truth be told, perhaps Pinker wasn't shooting for textbook use for his book, but the incongruity here is that the chapters that were most like textbook chapters in their content were the longest (and therefore the least like textbook chapters in their functionality). In sum, this was a readable stylebook (a feat in and of itself) that has a lot of 21st-century insights that it would do a lot of us a lot of good to internalize. However, it was also a book that just couldn't make up its mind about its identity.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Edmund

    I love Pinker, and I love writing, so this really was the book for me. It was denser than I expected, and I thus I wouldn't recommend it for any looking for a light read in writing. The focus is more on academic non-fiction than other forms of non-fiction or fiction, but offers generally timeless advice about style and clarity. Pinker strikes a good balance between useful rules and avoiding pedantry. He occasionally breaks his own advice by overusing his large and eccentric vocabulary, but its al I love Pinker, and I love writing, so this really was the book for me. It was denser than I expected, and I thus I wouldn't recommend it for any looking for a light read in writing. The focus is more on academic non-fiction than other forms of non-fiction or fiction, but offers generally timeless advice about style and clarity. Pinker strikes a good balance between useful rules and avoiding pedantry. He occasionally breaks his own advice by overusing his large and eccentric vocabulary, but its all in good fun. Will require a bit of time to get through but well recommended.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Б. Ачболд

    The single most helpful book on writing (nonfiction, mainly) I have read. If you write in Mongolian (or any other language), this will help too. Chapter 1: How to learn from good prose. B Chapter 2: How to write in the "classical style." (Pinker will explain what that is.) A Chapter 3: "The main cause of incomprehensible prose is the difficulty of imagining what it's like for someone else not to know something that you know." B Chapter 4: On syntax. Makes grammar interesting and very helpful. A Chap The single most helpful book on writing (nonfiction, mainly) I have read. If you write in Mongolian (or any other language), this will help too. Chapter 1: How to learn from good prose. B Chapter 2: How to write in the "classical style." (Pinker will explain what that is.) A Chapter 3: "The main cause of incomprehensible prose is the difficulty of imagining what it's like for someone else not to know something that you know." B Chapter 4: On syntax. Makes grammar interesting and very helpful. A Chapter 5: On the "arcs of coherence." B+ Chapter 6: On usage, I think. I had no time to get to this. The prose does get (just a tiny bit) tedious sometimes, but he's peppered it with lots of fun stuff, so enjoy!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sherri

    I started out reading this book as I thought it was intended: a style manual for the modern day writer. I ended up equating it more to a textbook and reference guide for the modern day writer. I can easily see this book being required for college level courses. It is deep into sentence structure,and the entire last chapter is fantastic for reference. I liked his approach of writing so that one's brain has the most effective cognitive response to what it's reading. There were moments when I admit I started out reading this book as I thought it was intended: a style manual for the modern day writer. I ended up equating it more to a textbook and reference guide for the modern day writer. I can easily see this book being required for college level courses. It is deep into sentence structure,and the entire last chapter is fantastic for reference. I liked his approach of writing so that one's brain has the most effective cognitive response to what it's reading. There were moments when I admit I had to go back and re-read some parts, as it was a bit too dry to keep me engaged but, overall, I found this book to be one of the most original I've read on structure. I will keep this book on my reference shelf; as I've highlighted parts throughout for quick reference. I have not read any of his other books, although I have to say he is a very good writer, and an author I will look for should I want to purchase other books on writing.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy Ele

    A very arrogant sounding title, lol. However, the title will make more sense after you read the book. This book is written for anyone who wants to put their thoughts down to paper in a coherent way and not be laughed at by the intelligentsia. It is a funny book that makes fun of grammar nazis while vying for supremacy as the ultimate grammar nazi. Steven Pinker has written many great books. Some of his books have converging ideas that merge into one another in different ways. This book is one of A very arrogant sounding title, lol. However, the title will make more sense after you read the book. This book is written for anyone who wants to put their thoughts down to paper in a coherent way and not be laughed at by the intelligentsia. It is a funny book that makes fun of grammar nazis while vying for supremacy as the ultimate grammar nazi. Steven Pinker has written many great books. Some of his books have converging ideas that merge into one another in different ways. This book is one of his most focused. It focuses primarily on what constitutes great writing. This was a good book. It gets a little tougher to read towards the end since Pinker goes into a textbook type of writing that ends up reading like a dictionary. This is the reason for the 4 stars. Overall it was a good read and a must read for anyone who is interested in the art of writing.

  18. 4 out of 5

    John Jaksich

    Pinker's book should be on every writer's shelf. In a mere 300 pages, he successfully expounds upon what it means to be a good writer. It stands alongside Strunk & White's short guide as what one needs to refer to as a guide. I plan to use it as a desk reference and it should be read more than once. I wholly recommend it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Stacey

    Earthshattering it is not. Some good cartoons, though.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Book

    The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker The Sense of Style is a scholarly and witty book on the art of writing well. Bestselling author, linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker provides readers with a new writing-guide for the twenty-first century. He breaks down grammar rules and challenges purists on the best use of language. This challenging 368-page book includes the following six chapters: 1. Good Writing, 2. A Window onto the Wo The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker The Sense of Style is a scholarly and witty book on the art of writing well. Bestselling author, linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker provides readers with a new writing-guide for the twenty-first century. He breaks down grammar rules and challenges purists on the best use of language. This challenging 368-page book includes the following six chapters: 1. Good Writing, 2. A Window onto the World, 3. The Curse of Knowledge, 4. The Web, the Tree, and the String, 5. Arcs of Coherence, and 6. Telling Right from Wrong. Positives: 1. Dr. Pinker consistently produces quality work. 2. A “very” unique topic, the art of writing well from a scientific perspective. You don’t have to read the book to get my joke. 3. Good use of wit that adds panache to a book about writing style. 4. Good advice throughout the book. “By replacing dogma about usage with reason and evidence, I hope not just to avoid giving ham-fisted advice but to make the advice that I do give easier to remember than a list of dos and don’ts.” 5. Explains the three main reasons why style matters. 6. Provides insights on how to become a good writer. “Writers acquire their technique by spotting, savoring, and reverse-engineering examples of good prose.” 7. Supports good style over writing dogma. “The key to good style, far more than obeying any list of commandments, is to have a clear conception of the make-believe world in which you’re pretending to communicate.” “The purpose of writing is presentation, and its motive is disinterested truth. It succeeds when it aligns language with the truth, the proof of success being clarity and simplicity.” 8. The characteristics of classic style. “A writer of classic prose must simulate two experiences: showing the reader something in the world, and engaging her in conversation.” 9. Provides many examples of what constitutes poor prose: “Metadiscourse, signposting, hedging, apologizing, professional narcissism, clichés, mixed metaphors, metaconcepts, zombie nouns, and unnecessary passives.” 10. Hanlon’s Razor, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” Excellent explanation on how the curse of knowledge may lead to poor prose. “The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation I know of why good people write bad prose.” 11. Ways on how to improve your prose. “Good prose is never written by a committee.” Think about that. 12. The importance of understanding syntax. “Finally, an awareness of syntax can help you avoid ambiguous, confusing, and convoluted sentences. All of this awareness depends on a basic grasp of what grammatical categories are, how they differ from functions and meanings, and how they fit into trees.” 13. Interesting insights on how our minds work and how that knowledge benefits good writing. “English syntax demands subject before object. Human memory demands light before heavy. Human comprehension demands topic before comment and given before new.” 14. How to construct coherent passages longer than a sentence. “In fact, it’s the hunger for coherence that drives the entire process of understanding language.” 15. Discusses principles of composition. “An important principle in composition is that the amount of verbiage one devotes to a point should not be too far out of line with how central it is to the argument. “ 16. Discusses good use of grammar, word choice, and punctuation. Starts off by debunking the myth that all traditional rules must be followed for dogma’s sake. “That’s right: when it comes to correct English, there’s no one in charge; the lunatics are running the asylum. The editors of a dictionary read a lot, keeping their eyes open for new words and senses that are used by many writers in many contexts, and the editors add or change the definitions accordingly. Purists are often offended when they learn that this is how dictionaries are written.” 17. Presents a list of common usage issues. “These are the ones that repeatedly turn up in style guides, pet-peeve lists, newspaper language columns, irate letters to the editor, and inventories of common errors in student papers.” Great stuff. 18. Includes notes, glossary and a formal bibliography. Negatives: 1. This book is intended for writers, not for laypersons. You must possess good command of the English language and grammar in order for this book to make sense. The grammar jargon will overwhelm the average reader. 2. The book’s formatting leads to confusion. For a book predicated on clarity, many times I was lost. 3. The writing may come across as pretentious. 4. I wanted more neuroscience. In summary, there is a direct correlation between the amount of stars this book deserves and your expertise on the subject. English majors and writers will give this book either four or five stars. On the other hand, laypersons will struggle with it to say the least. I’m giving this book four stars because even though my engineering brethren balks at reading such a book the avid reader in me recognizes its value. Writers will enjoy this book while the rest will struggle with it. Further recommendations: “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Junior, “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser, “A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations” by Kate L. Turabian, “The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need” by Susan Thurman and Larry Shea, “Book Writing Mistakes” by Jim Edwards, “How to Write Great Blog Posts that Engage Readers” by Steve Scott, “English Grammar for Dummies” by Geraldine Woods, and “Grammar Girl’s Punctuation 911” by Mignon Fogarty.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    What an enjoyable book. Charles McGrath in the Times: "In general [Pinker] takes the view that if a phrase or construction sounds O.K., it probably is, and that many of the mistakes the purists get so worked up over — using 'like' with a clause, for example — have been made for hundreds of years by writers like Shakespeare." I knew this about Pinker from reading The Language Instinct: he is no purist or prescriptivist of proper English. McGrath feigns surprise and annoyance that Pinker can write What an enjoyable book. Charles McGrath in the Times: "In general [Pinker] takes the view that if a phrase or construction sounds O.K., it probably is, and that many of the mistakes the purists get so worked up over — using 'like' with a clause, for example — have been made for hundreds of years by writers like Shakespeare." I knew this about Pinker from reading The Language Instinct: he is no purist or prescriptivist of proper English. McGrath feigns surprise and annoyance that Pinker can write a book on a subject that is not his field - but Pinker is scientist of language, after all. After the early chapter that analyzes three selections of good writing (from Richard Dawkins, Rebecca Goldstein, and Margalit Fox), and an overview of classic style that I found a little wanting (though I had read Clear and Simple as the Truth a long time ago), there is more grammar here than style. Style is ineffable but it arises out of good, clear writing. (Ben Yagoda's The Sound on the Page is my favorite book on writers and style). So much of what Pinker explains is inchoate to anyone who reads widely, and I was almost leery of studying his examples of mistakes and malapropisms.Good writers may have no explicit awareness of how these constructions and verb types work, and the certainly don't know their names. The words and structures lie waiting in memory [...]. Accomplished wordsmiths identify a need while writing, or spot a problem in a sentence while revising, and when all goes well the suitable word or construction pops into mind.Pinker does offer some rules (wording should never be varied when a writer is comparing or contrasting two things. But wording should be varied when ....) and the usual requisite list of grammar dos and don'ts (that's his punctuation). The sentence trees and diagrammed sentences bewildered me and I tended to jump to the verbal explanations. The ideas about rewriting and editing one's prose say much about reading itself: Too many things have to go right in a passage of writing for most mortals to get them all the first time. It's hard enough to formulate a thought that is interesting and true. Only after laying a semblance of it on the page can a writer free up the cognitive resources needed to make the sentence grammatical, graceful, and, most important, transparent to the reader. This concept leads to one of Pinker's insights about reading complex prose: that it involves holding ideas in one's mind while the sentence unwinds. The writer who intentionally - or negligently - makes that reading process more difficult is one who is writing badly.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nikki

    Perhaps a book on how to write by a scientist who studies neurology and linguistics and how they interact seems odd, but it’s right up Pinker’s street. He loves to think about language and the way it evolved, and what is natural for our brains when it comes to language. While he does go into the rules of grammar and the parts of speech and all of that, he tempers it with an understanding of why we make the kinds of mistakes we do, and when it might be time to let go and surrender to the fact tha Perhaps a book on how to write by a scientist who studies neurology and linguistics and how they interact seems odd, but it’s right up Pinker’s street. He loves to think about language and the way it evolved, and what is natural for our brains when it comes to language. While he does go into the rules of grammar and the parts of speech and all of that, he tempers it with an understanding of why we make the kinds of mistakes we do, and when it might be time to let go and surrender to the fact that we just don’t think the way grammar prescriptivists would like. His style is, fortunately, readable and engaging, though I did begin to tune out when it got very technical, or when there were a lot of tables presenting all kinds of information. I’ve never learnt to diagram a sentence, being part of that denigrated lot who didn’t get taught grammar in school. Instead, I rely on… well, a sense of style. A gut feeling that something is right or wrong. It usually doesn’t steer me wrong; where it might trip me up is in more formal writing, and cases that don’t often come up — like remembering how exactly to apply who vs. whom. I enjoyed the parts of this which touched specifically on academic writing, and the kind of nonsense academics can sometimes produce in their attempts to elevate their subject of study and get funding. It’s why a lot of literary theory is utterly impenetrable to me, for example. On the other hand, I can see that if I applied some of Pinker’s ideas to the style of my undergrad science essays, I’d get very low marks. Sometimes you just have to bow to the academicese. Originally posted on my blog.

  23. 5 out of 5

    William

    Steven Pinker is the titular heir to the throne of Noam Chomski; he, who overthrew one of the greatest empiricist of the 20th century B. F. Skinner. He did this by postulating that Homo sapiens are born with a language module already resident in their brains. Skinner tried to avoid any hints of homunculi but as far as language was concerned he was swept under the rug by the Chomski revolution. Pinker is linguist who has the language module as one of his memes which raises some questions about hi Steven Pinker is the titular heir to the throne of Noam Chomski; he, who overthrew one of the greatest empiricist of the 20th century B. F. Skinner. He did this by postulating that Homo sapiens are born with a language module already resident in their brains. Skinner tried to avoid any hints of homunculi but as far as language was concerned he was swept under the rug by the Chomski revolution. Pinker is linguist who has the language module as one of his memes which raises some questions about his new book. If he believes that children develop speech as the result of possessing an innate language module in which they generate grammar and word usage without any lessons, why has he written a book filled with grammar and word usage lessons that we can apply to better communicate with language? Weren't we born with that module? Seriously, I needed to get that first paragraph off my chest and I actually think he's written a decent style manual. But I do wish he had spent more time describing what to write, as Stephen King did in "On Writing", and less time on writing about humorous faux pas in grammar, word usage and punctuation. His best advice was given in his last sentence. "And we can remind ourselves of the reasons to strive for good style: to enhance the spread of ideas, to exemplify attention to detail, and to add to the beauty of the world".

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Hughes

    As I remarked at our work book club, any style guide that includes comics to illustrate points can't be bad! Steven Pinker gives some much-needed, common-sense relief to the seriousness of typical style guides. His prose was honestly a bit long-winded, and it was a slog when I tried to read it straight through, but when I started skimming, I felt like I was able to really absorb things and enjoy the ride. Pinker's usage charts/lists in the last chapter were really handy, and I would love to find As I remarked at our work book club, any style guide that includes comics to illustrate points can't be bad! Steven Pinker gives some much-needed, common-sense relief to the seriousness of typical style guides. His prose was honestly a bit long-winded, and it was a slog when I tried to read it straight through, but when I started skimming, I felt like I was able to really absorb things and enjoy the ride. Pinker's usage charts/lists in the last chapter were really handy, and I would love to find them in a searchable electronic format to use as a quick reference when I'm editing or proofreading. I loved this passage at the end (p. 302) so much that I came back and edited my original review to include it. Points Four and Five are especially timely in our charged political climate. I believe that Pinker's counsel here applies to all of us as responsible communicators--as people who want to add beauty to the world: If you really want to improve the quality of your writing, or if you want to thunder about sins in the writing of others, the principles you should worry about the most are...the ones that govern critical thinking and factual diligence. Here are a few which are commonly flouted--not least in purist rants--and which are worth bearing in mind every time you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. First, look things up. Humans are cursed with the deadly combination of a highly fallible memory and an overconfidence in how much they know. Out social networks, traditional and electronic, multiply the errors, so that much of our conventional wisdom consists of friend-of-a-friend legends and factoids that are too good to be true. As Mark Twain said, "The trouble with the world is not that people know too little, but that they know so many things that aren't so." Actually, he didn't say that--I looked it up. But whoever said it (probably Josh Billings) made an important point. We are blessed to live in an age in which no subject has gone unresearched by scholars, scientists, and journalists. The fruits of their research are available within seconds to anyone with a laptop or smartphone, and within minutes to anyone who can get to a library. Why not take advantage of these blessings and try to restrict the things you know (or at least the things you write) to things that are true? Second, be sure your arguments are sound. If you are making a factual claim, it should be verifiable in an edited source--one that has been vetted by disinterested gatekeepers such as editors, fact-checkers, or peer reviewers. If you're making an argument, it should proceed from premises that reasonable people already agree upon to your newer or more contentious assertion using valid if-then steps. If you're making a moral argument--a claim about what people ought to do--you should show how doing it would satisfy a principle or increase a good that reasonable people already accept. Third, don't confuse an anecdote or a personal experience with the state of the world. Just because something happened to you, or you read about it in the paper or on the Internet this morning, it doesn't mean it is a trend. In a world of seven billion people, just about anything will happen to someone somewhere, and it's the highly unusual events that will be selected for the news or passed along to friends. An event is a significant phenomenon only if it happens some appreciable number of times relative to the opportunities for it to occur, and it is a trend only if that proportion has been shown to change over time. Fourth, beware of false dichotomies. Though it's fun to reduce a complex issue to a war between two slogans, two camps, or two schools or thought, it is rarely a path to understanding. Few good ideas can be insightfully captured in a single word ending with -ism, and most of our ideas are so crude that we can make more progress by analyzing and refining them than by pitting them against other in a winner-take-all contest. Finally, arguments should be based on reasons, not people. Saying that someone you disagree with is motivated by money, fame, politics, or laziness, or slinging around insults like simplistic, naive, or vulgar, does not prove that the things the person is saying are false. Nor is the point of disagreement or criticism to show that you are smarter or nobler than your target. Psychologists have shown that in any dispute both sides are convinced that they themselves are reasonable and upright and that their opposite numbers are mulish and dishonest. They can't all be right, at least not all the time. Keep in mind a bit of wisdom from the linguist Ann Farmer: "It isn't about being right. It's about getting it right." All or these principles lead us back to why we should care about style in the first place. There is no dichotomy between describing how people use language and prescribing how they might use it more effectively. We can share our advice on how to write well without treating the people in need of it with contempt. We can try to remedy shortcomings in writing without bemoaning the degeneration of the language. And we can remind ourselves of the reasons to strive for good style: to enhance the spread of ideas, to exemplify attention to detail, and to add to the beauty of the world.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Bloodorange

    What I expect from a writing guide is either a comprehensive reference book where I can easily find answers to my questions, or - much more valued - explanations so memorable that my writing - or my students' writing - is changed forever. (Sin Boldly!: Dr. Dave's Guide To Writing The College Paper worked quite well this year; in one case, the shock of reading the Torah was so strong that a student of mine started to write clearly, because he understood that communicating ideas is the key to good What I expect from a writing guide is either a comprehensive reference book where I can easily find answers to my questions, or - much more valued - explanations so memorable that my writing - or my students' writing - is changed forever. (Sin Boldly!: Dr. Dave's Guide To Writing The College Paper worked quite well this year; in one case, the shock of reading the Torah was so strong that a student of mine started to write clearly, because he understood that communicating ideas is the key to good writing. True story.) With this book, we get neither. The explanations are long-winded, frequently involving tree diagrams (meaning they can cause brain damage in grammar-illiterate 16-year-olds), and ultimately unmemorable. I have enjoyed reading it - mostly - but this book is no miracle cure and not a go-to resource. Still, Pinker provides some excellent study material, such as incorrect and doctored sentences, or analysed samples of good writing, which I found very effective for teaching kids close reading.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Betsy

    What a wonderful book! Pinker's prose is absolutely delicious. I learmed so much from reading this - not the least of which is why my colleagues in the English Department don't value the old practice of diagramming sentences as much as I do. (But I also recognized that diagramming taught me syntax - and I'm wondering whether students now need to depend solely on reading to learn that same syntax.) Pinker is proficient at explaining why we write the way we do - and he is effective at condemnning What a wonderful book! Pinker's prose is absolutely delicious. I learmed so much from reading this - not the least of which is why my colleagues in the English Department don't value the old practice of diagramming sentences as much as I do. (But I also recognized that diagramming taught me syntax - and I'm wondering whether students now need to depend solely on reading to learn that same syntax.) Pinker is proficient at explaining why we write the way we do - and he is effective at condemnning the style and grammar mongers who exclaim over the decline of writing in today's world. (Yes, I recognize myself!) Pinker spends a great deal of time delving into "trees," a phenomenon best left to students of linguistics, It appears that linguistics has advanced greatly since my 9th grade year spent diagramming sentences with Miss Clevenger. Or, if not, I was taught wrong. I don't quibble with Pinker's more current explanations of deep structure, but am grateful for the easy-to-recall structure I was taught, that helps me keep pronouns, prepositions and participles straight. I adore the last chapter - a blow-by-blow analysis of common errors, and a distinction between what we used to call "wrong", but is now accepted, and what was and still is wrong. Pinker punctuates all of this with cartoons and stories that call attention to the overly prescriptive, and unduly careless, use of the language, all of which makes this chapter great reading. I'd be careful about requiring this book to grad students who are in disciplines other than linguistics; it's not a style manual for all writers. Instead, it's a plunge into the world of linguistics for anyone who likes language and wants to think deeply, and linguistically, about writing.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Erik Hoel

    I loved Pinker's exposition of classic style, his highly intelligent take on grammar, his take-downs of stuffy, often made-up or nonsensical grammar rules, and his overall use of vision as a guiding metaphor for good classic-style writing. This is a must read for anyone publishing today, or anyone who hopes to publish. So why not 5 stars? There is a section in which Pinker attempts to diagnose the fundamental cause of so much bad, obfuscating writing, especially that done in academia. His diagnos I loved Pinker's exposition of classic style, his highly intelligent take on grammar, his take-downs of stuffy, often made-up or nonsensical grammar rules, and his overall use of vision as a guiding metaphor for good classic-style writing. This is a must read for anyone publishing today, or anyone who hopes to publish. So why not 5 stars? There is a section in which Pinker attempts to diagnose the fundamental cause of so much bad, obfuscating writing, especially that done in academia. His diagnosis? That writers often assume too much background knowledge of their readers, and because the veil of ignorance is so hard to wear, readers get left with stock, opaque, dense, and impossible-to-untangle conceptual messes. I honestly think Pinker has put far too much stock in his chosen explanation. Far, far, far more common is that an academic field, especially in the soft sciences and some parts of the humanities, actively rewards obfuscation. That is, the style of the field itself has evolved into one of catchphrases, made-up words, overly broad terminology (like "othering") and has so has developed kind of a "house style" in which, because there is so little real content, or the ideas are too weak to stand on their own, obfuscation is the norm. So I wish he had directly confronted this. All in all, a necessary read for anyone who writes.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Barry Belmont

    Pretentious, insightful, mediocre. This is a book by a man who likes to read and write. This is also a book by a man who wants to be known for liking to read and write. Not overly, but enough so. You get this odd mix of clever, self-indulgent, and I’m-the-teacher-teaching styles that don’t make this the best of reads. That this book begins with Pinker dissecting four pieces of writing and explaining why each of them is so great with the first being the work of his good friend Richard Dawkins and Pretentious, insightful, mediocre. This is a book by a man who likes to read and write. This is also a book by a man who wants to be known for liking to read and write. Not overly, but enough so. You get this odd mix of clever, self-indulgent, and I’m-the-teacher-teaching styles that don’t make this the best of reads. That this book begins with Pinker dissecting four pieces of writing and explaining why each of them is so great with the first being the work of his good friend Richard Dawkins and the second of his wife should give you some sense of what sort of book this will be. That the author should also explanibrag throughout the whole piece is self-evident from the first page. It’s no Strunk and White and it certainly does not rise to the task of replacing that slim volume for the 21st century. It’s good, but it’s not that good.

  29. 5 out of 5

    T. Fowler

    This is a good book and required reading for any serious writer. I would have given it 4 stars, except there were sections that I just didn't have the energy to read and digest fully. In these pages, he delves more deeply into the rules of grammar than I was prepared to concentrate on. Bravo to the last chapter, however, where he demolishes many rules that most writers and teachers take for granted. That chapter is really worth five stars. For the other sections which I skipped, I must go back a This is a good book and required reading for any serious writer. I would have given it 4 stars, except there were sections that I just didn't have the energy to read and digest fully. In these pages, he delves more deeply into the rules of grammar than I was prepared to concentrate on. Bravo to the last chapter, however, where he demolishes many rules that most writers and teachers take for granted. That chapter is really worth five stars. For the other sections which I skipped, I must go back and re-read them when I have more patience.

  30. 5 out of 5

    UChicagoLaw

    Good for everyone but especially good for people who write for a living. Can we write in a way that is clear and conveys our meaning without being cumbersome? —David A. Weisbach

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