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49 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Conversations Can Build A Better Tomorrow
The book itself it witty and engaging. I found myself not wanting to put the book down as I was drawn into the history and discourse of talking. It may sound dull, but believe me it isn't. Each chapter has conversations that are great examples of the topic that he is trying to cover which truly allows the reader to understand the concepts at a much deeper level...
Published on December 30, 2009 by C. Lewis

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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Terrible
I sought practical advice like many of the other reviewers and I found some. But the book is filled with self referential writing, making for a boring read. At one point the author mentioned that he tried to find people to record for conversation but failing to find many willing volunteers records his own conversation with a friend (for two chapters of a seven chapter...
Published on January 9, 2010 by A. Sander


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49 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Conversations Can Build A Better Tomorrow, December 30, 2009
The book itself it witty and engaging. I found myself not wanting to put the book down as I was drawn into the history and discourse of talking. It may sound dull, but believe me it isn't. Each chapter has conversations that are great examples of the topic that he is trying to cover which truly allows the reader to understand the concepts at a much deeper level.

As I work in a profession that requires a lot of talking, this book was rather relevant. I run into people daily who have a lack of skill when it comes to conversing with others. I even find at times that conversation does not always come naturally, thus this book was a great find and a great read, as it makes you look at conversing with others in a different light and allows you to work step by step to build yourself into a better conversationalist as well as becomming a better person in society.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read for Wordsmiths, March 16, 2010
By 
A stranger in an airplane sparked a conversation with me the other day. Rather than the usual awkward seatmate dialogue, we ended up having a good conversation.

He told me about his time in Iraq and playing craps in Vegas. I told him about my visit to Laos, where he would be stationed next. Although our half-hour exchange may have felt like little more than a way to pass time, we were actually discovering connections, establishing common ground, and taking on roles.

I didn't realize this until about a week later, when I read "A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation, former New Yorker editor Daniel Menaker's latest book." In his seven-chapter discourse on conversation, Menaker explains the evolution, mechanics, and benefits of human conversation. His entertaining new read offers a fresh perspective on how and why conversations play significant roles in our lives.

Inside the Book

Menaker has a tendency to elaborate and digress. He shows this habit right from the beginning, with 22 pages of opening remarks.

In his wordy, amusing style, he speculates on the origin and evolution of conversation. He makes points about the essence of conversation by referring to various social science studies. You leave those opening remarks with a clearer sense of why conversation is hard to study, what makes it unique, and where it probably came from. You also feel like Menaker has talked to you, a theme that continues throughout the book.

Next, Menaker explores the history of conversation, from Socrates to talk shows. He goes on to break down the components of a conversation, using a long transcribed conversation between himself and an acquaintance as a case study.

Through Menaker's long, bantering example, you learn about the structure of conversation. For example, most conversations come in five parts: Survey, Discovery, Risks, Roles, and the ending of the talk. Menaker describes each. You also learn different approaches to take while engaging in one. This is one of the more instructive parts of the book, but it's embedded in a whole bunch of, well, talk.

In the fifth chapter of the book, Menaker answers some frequently asked questions on conversation. How do address boredom? What about people who suddenly insult you? What about email manners? There are some useful tips here. Chapter 6 describes the three qualities any good conversationalists must possess: Curiosity, humor, and impudence. You learn not only what they are, but how to use them.

The final chapter of the book describes how conversation benefits people emotionally and physically (oxytocin has a role here). Menaker also reflects on conversation's political and social roles, concluding with insights on how conversations can change our lives.

My Thoughts

Because I'm reviewing this book from a business angle, let me issue a qualifier. It's not for everyone. As a New Yorker fan, writer, and admirer of the craft of writing, I probably land on the bull's eye of this book's target audience. When I read Menaker's digressions, I was also taking note of his often boundary-pushing writing style. I enjoyed his use of big words. As for his references to New York's literary elite, I thought: I should learn who these people are.

If I'd been looking for cut-and-dried advice on how to be good at conversation, and I didn't happen to be a literary wonk, this book would have annoyed me. But if you can relate to me, do bring A Good Talk on your vacation or on the plane. The writing flows, engages, and inspires. It made me more interested in any conversation, and made me want to have more good ones.

In a sense, the book is written like a conversation: You have to sift through the chatter to see the glint of gems. This was especially apparent in Chapters 3 and 4, which covered a painfully long conversation as a case study. I would have preferred that Menaker chunked out the conversation into short bits, then defined his points after each excerpt.

Still, if you aren't turned off by written rambling, Menaker does offer a truly fresh perspective on conversations. His book helped me appreciate conversations as a form, not just a necessity.

I'll conclude by saying that if you want straightforward tips, this isn't your tome. But if you like good writing, fresh perspectives, and the New Yorker for that matter, pick this book up.

(Book review by Drea Knufken)
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Terrible, January 9, 2010
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I sought practical advice like many of the other reviewers and I found some. But the book is filled with self referential writing, making for a boring read. At one point the author mentioned that he tried to find people to record for conversation but failing to find many willing volunteers records his own conversation with a friend (for two chapters of a seven chapter book). Instead of finding a sparkling example of fine conversation, we end up with whatever he could think of at the time. And that is how the book feels, like the author put his thoughts to the page without much research or consideration for the reader.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Inisght Into Conversation, January 22, 2010
I'll be honest, while I appreciated the humor, I had a hard time getting into this book. This author is extremely well educated and unlike little old hillbilly me, he knows lots of big words. :) I really enjoyed his chapter on FAQ's though, including tips on how to create great email correspondence, how to deal with a boring conversation, tips on changing the subject, and how to deal with insults even if you were the one who accidentally made the insult. The author does an excellent job of touching on all the skills necessary for rewarding face-to-face conversation. While it may not have been my favorite read of late, I did appreciate the insight and information the book provided.
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29 of 36 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Theory over substance makes book a boring read, January 6, 2010
By 
P. Hixon (Columbus, Ohio) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I was expecting a book about the mechanics of good conversation, with tips to enhance one's skill. Instead, this book starts back at the time of Socrates and works through to the present day in an attempt to give an historical look back at the origins of today's conversation. The book attempts to be witty, but comes off as trying too hard. If you're looking for a book to help you become a better conversationalist, this book is not for you. If you're looking for a story about the history and context of conversation, you might find the book interesting, but I doubt it.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Good Talk - not a good read, January 30, 2010
Daniel Menaker can turn a phrase and be quite humorous - and remarkably long-winded. The author quotes a friend who asks "What does Dan know about conversation?". The friend was right.

If you are looking for a good book on conversation, or even just an interesting read to pass the time, look elsewhere.
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29 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reading At The Beach: Reviews, December 31, 2009
By 
I thought this book would be rather dull and text book like, but it wasn't. It was very interesting and humorous, which made it so much better than I thought it would be.

The Contents are:
One~ Opening Remarks
Two~ Talking History
Three~ Survey, Discovery, Risks, and Roles
Four~ Liebe und Arbeit(But, To Be Honest, Really Just The Rest Of Chapter 3)
Five~ FAQ's
Six~ After Words
Followed by: Highly Selective Bibliography and Acknowledgments

I love trivia and the Talking History section was so exciting to read, and I learned so much. There is an ongoing conversation throughout the book between Fred and Ginger that was very entertaining as well as informative. I was really so surprised at how funny this book was. I especially loved the sections about Chi, Boredom and Humor.

I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn about the art of conversation, or anyone who wants to read a very funny book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Some Bright Spots But Lacks Focus, June 9, 2010
By 
There are 3 reasons this book is not worth your money:

1. The author comes off as somewhat of a blowhard (a very boastful and talkative person)
2. He records a conversation (his own of course) with a younger female writer, and tries lamely to convince the reader that the act of recording itself does not affect the speakers. Supposedly he had to use himself as the subject because he couldn't find any volunteers. Really! - couldn't find a couple of college students and pay them a few bucks? Researchers can find people to take electric shocks for cryin' out loud!
3. His basic premise--that conversation is defined as "aimless talking"--is nonsense. 95% of the things people do and say have a definite, although not always obvious, purpose. I guess he never read Freud.

Maybe because he believes premise # 3, this book offers very little practical advice. I would think knowing our purpose and the purpose of others would make us better conversationalists, and would have given him a real point to write about. Instead we get rambling and some bits of humor. There are some genuinely funny anecdotes, but you'll have to read through pages of chatter to get there. And even when the author has something clever to say, he makes sure you get it by repeating it from every conceivable angle.

His great contribution to the art of conversation is that a conversation passes through 3 stages: So we talk to a person, find something in common, and then risk disclosing something about ourselves to deepen the connection. Brilliant! Why didn't I think of that?
If the subject interests you, it may be worth a trip to the library, but don't expect much.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A lame book, February 9, 2011
A great idea, poorly executed. The author, who puts way too much of himself in this book, comes across as alternately insecure, self-important and solipsistic. The finished product feels lazy and under-reported. By including multiple anecdotes about his poor judgment (and plenty of new evidence -- why all the stories about an old flame but not one about the current wife?) and how he's perceived by others as being a not-great conversationalist, he makes the reader wonder how he landed this assignment. The many examples of New Yorkers who can't behave make one long for a book on the same topic, but one written by a Southerner who's mastered repartee or a polite Midwesterner who can at least give useful pointers. I bought this on the basis of a good review in The New York Times, only to read that the author's wife works there. Or, as he says in a lengthy (and not particularly interesting) conversation he's transcribed with a much younger writer (though he ickily renames the two of them Fred and Ginger) "My wife WORKS there." (I've used all-caps as a substitute for italics.) Thumbs down.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a Good Talk, February 6, 2010
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This was a big disappointment. I ordered this book after listening to an interview with the author on NPR. it was delightful exchange, light-hearted and informative; and I assumed the book would be the same, especially after reading at least one very positive review on Amazon's web site. It was neither (informative, nor entertaining). It consisted primarily of interminable analysis of one so-called conversation between the author and one young female acquaintance. The author had defined criteria of "conversation" as, in part, having no particular purpose. It was apparent that the exchange on which the book concentrated was about the young woman receiving advice on her own writing career. It was not humorous and did not exhibit any evidence of rapport between the two participants. I did not receive either entertainment or insight into good communication skills as a result of having read it. Menaker seems to be a pleasant person; but I would not care to have a conversation with him. Dull!
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A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation
A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation by Daniel Menaker (Paperback - January 13, 2011)
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