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The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure Paperback – December 29, 2009

3 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. British journalist Blyth was once described as the person you hope you'll find at the next cocktail party—or the person you'd like to be. The next best thing is a close encounter with Blyth on the printed page. Adopting a chatty, conversational manner to write about conversation, Blyth mixes personal anecdotes into a salmagundi of selected quotes from anthropology, history, literature, philosophy and pop culture to analyze and give advice on the dynamics of good conversation, not to mention the perfect riposte for every situation. She examines everything from small talk to pillow talk, from riotous raconteurs to crashing bores, from flattery to false smiles. The key is listening: Good conversation is a team sport; pace and energy keep it alive. Blyth probes layers of language, humor as social engineering, baiting, lies, flirting, evasions and failed shoptalk, such as how miscommunication lost Xerox the PC. Witty, eloquent and insightful, Blyth's book is a delightful encouragement to rediscover conversation as the best communication technology. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"In this handy guide to civilized banter, Blyth reintroduces the craft of modern discourse."
-Elle

"The Art of Conversation will make your next foray into a bar or business reception much more entertaining [...] it will help both wallflowers and those lost in cyberspace achieve conversational connections."
-Los Angeles Times

"Witty, eloquent and insightful, Blyth's books is a delightful encouragement to rediscover conversation as the best communication technology."
-Publishers Weekly
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham Books; 1st edition (December 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592404979
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592404971
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #310,250 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This work is a brilliant magazine article inflated into a mediocre book. The brilliant part ends with page 26. That page, titled "The Concise Manifesto," is a summary of what conversation ought to be, and it may be worth the price of the entire book. From there on, "The Art of Conversation" uses too many devices familiar to writers with deadlines to meet and spaces to fill: short paragraphs, abundant quotations from others, recurring categories and subcategories with slangy names, lists where ordinary paragraphs would do, and subheadings every few paragraphs. In other words, typography and repetition in place of thought.

Two other observations: The author, Catherine Blyth, is as beautiful as a fashion model, judging by the photograph on the dust jacket, and perhaps for her the art of conversation is not as fraught as it is for the rest of us. Also, she is English and occasionally uses phrases that must be clear on her side of the Atlantic but that puzzle me.
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Format: Hardcover
The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure
This is an advice book. Do not expect any in-depth reflections on the philosophy, psychology, anthropology, or sociology of conversation. The best that can be said of it is that there is a lot crammed into its 288 sparse pages and many readers may find some small part helpful. We have all fumbled conversations, and as I read Blyth's book I had some shocks of recognition of mistakes I have made far too often.

Her attempt to fit in so much is also the book's chief weakness. I counted 95 "rules" strewn throughout, and that only scratches the surface of her advice precepts. There are also "principles," "maxims," "guidelines," "commandments," and other kinds of lists, adding dozens (if not hundreds) of further directives. Little space is left for meaningful discussion of any of these (although illustrative anecdotes and quotations appear with many of her rules). The Art of Conversation is broad and shallow.

There is no way that I, for one, could possibly remember more than a few of Blyth's guidelines when I am caught in, say, a tedious cocktail party conversation. It might be best just to focus on some common sense, such as "don't embarrass anyone" or "listen more than you talk." The author does not overlook such fundamentals as these, but they are buried into all of her other material. After reading the book I was unsure of what she might consider to be the three or four most helpful things she had to say.
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Format: Paperback
Catherine Blyth's The Art of Conversation is a wonderful excursion into the mind of a modern conversationalist. While some may open this book thinking it is a straight-forward instruction manual that will give an empirical formula for successful conversations, most are no doubt pleasantly surprised that it is so much more than a how-to booklet. Catherine takes you through the situations that so often happen in conversation giving her own witty anecdotes and opening the mind of the reader to the art of listening and interpretting visual as well as vocal cues during conversation.
I find her sections on listening and knowing when to speak as well as the proper use of silence particularly important. Too often is this overlooked in favor of always finding something interesting to force down someone else's throat. These sections alone make it worthwhile to check this book out.
Also, her free-flowing openness leaves room for you to experiment while less confident speakers will get helpful straightforward tips. She not only has helpful step by step sections juxtaposed with (supposedly) real-life experiences, she has a sense of humor that most anyone can appreciate from time to time.
Finally, it is always a positive when the author is accessible and helpful, personally to the average reader. At the end of her book she leaves her web address to her blog and really does value your input individually. The art of Conversation is a brief but worthwhile glimpse into the mind of an expert conversationalist that promises to teach you a thing or two that you do not already know or think you know.
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Format: Hardcover
I was unimpressed with this book. Part of the book was common sense. Other parts of the book seemed to me like outdated British manners, and supplication in order to get other people to like you.

I found the book difficult to read. The author rarely stayed focused or on topic, as she went off on many tangents. Some of the examples given seemed to contradict the point she was trying to make instead of supporting it.
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Format: Hardcover
Catherine Blyth expresses the obvious need for conversation in her petitely cute table top book. With its cornflower blue hue and the black silhouettes along the base of the cover, a potential reader would expect something a bit aristocratic with, perhaps, a flair for style. Blyth's accounts of various historical viewpoints on the art of conversing, combined with conversational fashion savvy, allow this assumption to be true.

The need for conversation is well established throughout the book and especially in the first chapter. Humans love to talk. We crave interaction and news and discussions. The age we find ourselves in, however, has stymied our ability to have a face to face conversation. Much of Blyth's book covers this lack of desire to actually talk to others. She is adept at making her reader aware that we are silent when in a crowd but talkative on our cell phones and online. Her ability to place us in a situation that screams for consideration and decorum is fun to ponder.

After establishing this conversational need, Ms. Blyth gives her reader some how-to pointers. She encourages one to say "hello" and put oneself out there. Introduction and conversation starters are also plentilly provided. Her chapters are easily broken down into steps of what to do and, graciously, what not to do.

Although conversation can be a light topic, the book has the potential to drag. Blyth's prose and her quotes from a variety of societal figures keep the pages turning. Two topics which are key needs of instruction are proper navigation techniques for conversation and the art of flattery. Her navigation recommendations provide wit and smiles. I personally love the humor of social engineering topics.
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