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60 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2010
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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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2009
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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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2010
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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31 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2009
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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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2009
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. But there are other thought provoking and helpful ideas found in conversations at work, steering conversation in a proper direction, wrangling boredom and a fun chapter on detecting lies.

Then there's the flattery aspect of conversation, such as pillow talk and the languages of love. Blyth does a great job of bringing conversation - rich, enjoyable conversation - into many aspects of our shared lives. Another facet of flattery which Blyth brings up is when not to speak at in shut-up and listen.

As an etiquette writer, I am often dismayed at the general population's lack of respect when it comes to greetings, smiling and all things conversational. Catherine Blyth's book covers many of these angst's with straight forward direction, lots of wit and enough grace and charm to convince this editor that our need for speech is not a lost art. Like many aspects of treating others with respect, considerate conversation is a necessary ingredient to a nutritional personality.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2012
Did it have to take over 200 pages to tell me that to be a good conversationalist I should try to be interested in what the other person is saying and should try to listen more than I talk? There wasn't a lot more in this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2012
At a time when there are so many books on conversation, it is good to find one that is slightly different.
This book, rather than solely advising on etiquette, discusses types of conversation and types of conversationalists, examining a wide variety of these and offering us certain principles that might assist our conversation flow with a diverse range of personalities. There is also a discussion of various responses that we might like to use if we are ever pushed into a tight corner. This mixture of etiquette and fallacy gives us an `Aristotle meets Leil Lowndes' feel - a highly potent mixture.

If you are looking for an introduction to this material, you will probably find it rather difficult to follow because the style is a little incoherent - an ironic fault to find in a book about human communication. However, having said this, the selection of material is brilliant. If you are already fairly well read, you'll probably enjoy the book because of the way in which it pulls together many related fields.
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2009
"The Art of Conversation" by Catherine Blyth. It was a poorly written book and very hard to follow in many respects - too verbose and too much rambling and not to the point. If I had to converse with her in person it would be a difficult prospect if she is going to converse as she writes. I would not recommend this book to anyone.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
“Sweet discourse, the banquet of the mind,” is how John Dryden described it in 1700.

And I had a very entertaining time at Blyth's banquet of pleasures. She brings enlightening talkers to the table, from Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Disraeli to Bob Geldof (a fellow Brit).

Blyth gives a hilarious history of the salon, tracing it to an Italian visiting Paris -- a twelve-year old newlywed named the Marquise de Rambouillet with nobody to talk to and in need of "CONVERSAZIONE" in 1600...

Ha! And she says bringing humor to our own conversaziones give, "the electricity of intimacy” (my gosh, just reading those words set me all a-sparkin' inside!) She calls puns and other wordplay "humor’s junk food" but how “seven-to twelve-year-olds of all ages remain in thrall, including me.”

Thank you England. Let us play...

At times this book put me on guard at every confab that followed.(Great conversationalists LISTEN more than TALK? We need to speak up for silence? Scary, right?)

Still, despite all our painful stumbling and bumbling through daily social requirements (She says conversation's highest challenge is "to make the bore interesting."), most of this book I felt like I was at a lovely tea party--which she recommends holding by the way, among her "20 Rules" to escape our screens, think before we text, walk and talk (Aristotle, “believed lessons were better learned while out walking”).

Listen: She inspires by showing what a conversation between Shelly and Byron sounded like.
I never knew Mark Twain's great definition of repartee, nor that it was Emily Dickinson who first said: "Tell all the Truth but tell it slant." Who knew "Conversare" was Latin for "to turn around often"?

So get this guide and get your "neurological fireworks" on! Blyth shows, “Of all the arts the oldest and most captivating, it is also the easiest, free to all.”

(Also recommend: A Good Talk by Daniel Menaker and The Art of Civilized Conversation by Margaret Shepherd, reviewed elsewhere.)
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16 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2009
Catherine Blyth's new book is a real delight: "The Art of Conversation" reminds us how good it could be if we all started talking to each other again. There's pithy advice (worthy of Nietzsche, but funnier); lively examples spanning the entire human experience (from ancient history to modern pop culture); advice on bores (how to deal with them, how not to become one); why difficult conversations are joyful and why small talk matters; how to open doors with a simple question like "are you praying?"; and, most importantly, the correct etiquette when confronted unexpectedly with a cat.

The author writes brilliantly and in a style that is itself a call for better, sharper words. Her breadth of knowledge is awe-inspiring and her wit is electric; and yet the reader is made welcome, invited in for tea and biscuits and not in the least intimidated, but charmed through and through.

The winter holiday period has given me several opportunities to share this wonderful treat with family and friends, but I think this is a book for all seasons: I lug my own copy with me everywhere. Funny, wise, poignant, contemporary, irresistible, and ultimately very humane.
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