These days, discussions of writing style are generally limited to superficialities such as serial commas and approved abbreviations. It's a pity. While consistency in writing does make for more pleasant reading, no amount of rule-abiding can mask poorly wrought prose. In Clear and Simple As the Truth
, Francis-Noël Thomas and Mark Turner argue that "writing is an intellectual activity, not a bundle of skills." The first half of their book is a probing examination of classic style, the form popularized by 17th-century French prose writers such as Descartes, Pascal, and Madame de Sévigné and best typified contemporarily by much of the writing in the pre-1985 New Yorker
. The authors liken classic style to those theorems in mathematics valued for being "brief, efficient, clear, elegant, and pure." The classic sentence appears effortless, "as if it could have been written in no other way," and while "the writer may speak with a technical mastery not possessed by the reader ... his attitude is always that the reader lacks this mastery only accidentally." While one can hardly hope to distill the essence of classic style into a sentence, Thomas and Turner describe it most succinctly as expression that is "clear and simple as the truth, but no clearer or simpler."
The second half of the book is a "museum" of classic prose, by Thomas Jefferson, Descartes, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Richard Feynman, Oscar Wilde, Philip Larkin, and many others, accompanied by commentary from the authors.
From Library Journal
Thomas (humanities, Truman Coll.) and Turner (English, Univ. of Maryland) here consider classic prose style, first carefully distinguishing it from the more modern usage of style, i.e., standard presentation formats. The authors explain how to distinguish classic from other styles, defining it as the presentation of truth, the simplicity and clarity of the prose eliminating the need to promote opinion or to contest an idea aggressively. It's the most genteel of styles, difficult to perfect and thus in decline. The first half of this book is explanatory; the second is a collection of short samples with analysis. The samples reach a bit-e.g., Alan Greenspan's report to Congress is acknowledged obfuscation. Whether they can spark a revival in classic writing is uncertain, but Thomas and Turner serve their topic well. A good choice for the serious stylist and those learning the craft.Robert C. Moore, Information Svcs., Dupont Merck Pharmaceuticals, North Billerica, Mass.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.