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Simple & Direct Paperback – December 18, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0060937232 ISBN-10: 0060937238 Edition: 4th

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 4th edition (December 18, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060937238
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060937232
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #288,145 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Rare is the book that causes one to consider--ponder? appraise? examine? inspect? contemplate?--one's every word. Simple & Direct, a classic text on the craft of writing by the educator Jacques Barzun, does so--with style. His object, says Barzun, is "to resensitize the mind to words." Do not use a word unless you know both its meaning and its connotations, its "quality" and its "atmosphere," and the ways in which it joins with other words. Barzun is an exacting taskmaster, railing against abstractions, "fancy" wordings, contemporary slang (which "prey[s] upon the vocabulary rather than nourish[es] it"), misprints ("it is rudeness to let them appear"), and the like. He bemoans what he sees as "a fury at work in the people to make war on hyphens," and he loathes those new words, such as condominium, that have been "cobbled together out of shavings and leftovers."

Still, no stodgy codger he. Barzun merely asks that you "have a point and make it by means of the best word." If that means splitting an infinitive or substituting a "which" for a "that," so be it. Just be sure that the decision to do so is conscious and informed. Once you've found the right word, you can move on to writing sentences and then leaning them against one another until they form paragraphs. Only when you've gotten it all down, says Barzun, should you allow yourself the pleasure of revision. "Unlike the sculptor," he says, "the writer can start carving and enjoying himself only after he has dug the marble out of his own head." --Jane Steinberg --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Born in France in 1907, Jacques Barzun came to the United States in 1920. After graduating from Columbia College, he joined the faculty of the university, becoming Seth Low Professor of History and, for a decade, Dean of Faculties and Provost. The author of some thirty books, including the New York Times bestseller From Dawn to Decadence, he received the Gold Medal for Criticism from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, of which he was twice president. He lived in San Antonio, Texas, before passing away at age 104.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 41 people found the following review helpful By R. Jones on April 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
I taught newswriting as an adjunct in the journalism department of a state university for a couple of years, and Barzun's "Simple and Direct" was on a list of books and essays I strongly recommended to all my students.

I used to work as a radio news and documentary producer and news director and I found Barzun's prescriptions on prose style a reliable guide for editng my own work and others as well.

Barzun's approach can be a bit irritating at first because he tends to be fairly prissy about style, but if you can get past that, you begin to perceive the prissiness as a tight focus on precision of the type that is lacking in much modern prose writing.

His main rule is one I paraphrased at the first meeting of every newswriting class...that there are only two reasons for producing bad writing; either you don't know what you're writing about, or you don't know how to write about it.

I lost my copy of Barzun years ago. I think one of my students walked off with it. If so, I hope he or she is using it. I'm glad to know it's still available.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By W. A. Bussey on May 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
I read this book - twice. I am not an academic; I am a writer, and I find book to be not only useful but entertaining (as are most of Barzun's writings). As a writer he is careful and exact if not always concise. But even his lack of brevity has its merits; there is no misunderstanding what he is saying. I believe that only someone who has difficulty understanding the English language could call this book ". . .one of the worst books on English composition. . ." It is well written, well organized, and, although not always simple and direct, always complete, grammatically correct, and understandable.
As to another review, modern linguistic research has little to do with learning to produce a composition in English? Additonally in that review, the not-so-thinly veiled ad hominem attack on Barzun as being "pompous" and "nasty" has little to do with the merits of the book and do not constitute a review.
I certainly recommend the book for some excellent insight on how to write properly. Be prepared to work at it a bit, but that's as it should be; correct English writing requires some effort.
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45 of 50 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 25, 2003
Format: Paperback
Barzun has written one of the best guides to prose composition, one to be set on the shelf with Strunk & White's "Elements of Style" and Graves & Hodge's "Reader Over Your Shoulder" and consulted often. All three of these books adhere to the Strict Taskmaster method and demand that the writer PAY ATTENTION to what he (or she) is doing. Prissy? Perhaps. Overbearing? At times. But such discipline is the first essential step towards becoming a real writer.
Only after one has internalized the Taskmasters and made their advice an ingrained habit can one then go on to profit from such excellent books as Joseph Williams's "Style," Thomas Kane's "Oxford Essential Guide to Writing," and Arthur Quinn's "Figures of Speech".
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63 of 72 people found the following review helpful By George Formby on February 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
If one desires to mould one's prose around the lumpy and shifting shapes thrown up by statistical sampling -- in other words, according to the latest results of the human birdwatchers known as linguistics professors -- then don't read this book. But if you seek concision and character for your writing, and if you don't mind taking the advice of a very great though very old prose stylist, then read, and profit. It is short the fifth star only in order to save something for his "House of Intellect", "Berlioz" and "Science: The Glorious Entertainment".
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By S. Grotzke on October 6, 2011
Format: Paperback
Point: Write clearly. Read what you have written. Rewrite. Simple and Direct provides a critique of the lazy writer and a challenge to those who seek to rise above the average. Barzun and Graff demonstrate the importance of writing clearly.
Path: By providing numerous examples and exercises, the authors demonstrate the pervasiveness of sloppy speech. In an effort to correct this problem, this work addresses key topics through six chapters. Interspersed throughout are twenty principles highlighting the key ideas of writing clearly.
The goal of the authors is not to provide ten easy steps to be understood. Rather, they seek to show the painstaking effort involved in effective communication contrasted with the devastating results of those who do not take the time. Their message is not easy, but it is necessary.
Agreement: One of the strengths of this book are the exercises given. If one would take the time to read thoughtfully and thoroughly, doing the exercises given, he would benefit greatly.
Another strength of Simple and Direct are the twenty principles found throughout the chapters. These short ideas can easily be compiled and reviewed, allowing the reader to remember the advice given.
The message of this book could not be timely enough. Whether through blogs, websites, or self published ebooks, people are speaking. Everyone has a voice, but few speak clearly.

It would be worth another read and I would recommend it.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By C. G. Bradshaw on May 19, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Simple and Direct" has a well deserved reputation for anyone wanting to improve their writing skills.

In print for a quarter of a century (updated with a fourth edition in 2001), the book is a "handbook for whoever wants to conquer some of the permanent difficulties of writing prose".

Barzun recognises this challenge upfront: "Writing always presents problems, dilemmas, some of which beset all writers, even great ones; but there is no need to be baffled by all the difficulties every time you write."

The book is hard going at first because of the detailed explanations but once you grasp how he has broken English into its basic elements and then combines them it's difficult to put "Simple and Direct" down.

Barzun can be didactic but his gentle wit makes up for finger wagging. For instance on diction: "But his real interest lay elsewhere than the Court of George II." Barzun notes: "It turns out on further reading that his real interest (singular) did lie at the court; it was one of the ladies-in-waiting; but his real interests (plural), meaning what would be better for his fortune, lay in his country estate."

Finding the right tone can be torture. Barzun's advice: "The best tone is the tone called plain, unaffected, unadorned. It does not talk down or jazz up ... it does not try to dazzle or cajole the indifferent; it takes no posture of coziness or sophistication. It is the most difficult of all tones, also the most adaptable. When you can write plain you can trust yourself in special effects."

Structuring your writing for maximum interest and flow is challenging. His remedy: make a quick "shorthand" outline of your draft using a key word (or key words) for each paragraph.
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