Customer Review

109 of 118 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Four stars for content; minus one for Kindle deficiencies, October 3, 2010
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This review is from: Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages (Kindle Edition)
The first foreign language I learned to complete fluency was German - after five years of high school German I spent a year at a German boys' boarding school. At the end of that year I was completely fluent, but noticed an odd phenomenon, that I felt like a slightly different person when I spoke German than when speaking English. Since then I've also learned Spanish to a high degree of fluency, and the same observation holds. In both cases, the main difference that I perceive has to do with humor, and the way the language I'm speaking affects my sense of humor. So I've always been interested in the extent to which language affects thought. The notion that it does is what linguists refer to as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Belief in Sapir-Whorf reached its peak in the first half of the 20th century, but since then the notion that language affects cognition has been discredited by almost all mainstream linguists.

In "Through the Language Glass" Guy Deutscher mounts a careful, very limited defence of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. He considers three major areas - the link between language and color perception, how different languages deal with spatial orientation, and the phenomenon of differences in noun genders across different languages. His examination of the link between language and color perception is extensive and thought-provoking - he traces the development of linguistic theory on color perception from British prime minister Gladstone's commentary on the relative paucity of color terms in Homer's work, through the Berlin-Kay model (stating essentially that languages all tend to split up the color spectrum in similar ways) through very recent experiments suggesting that the existence of a particular color distinction in a language (e.g. the existence of separate terms in Russian for light and dark blue) affects the brain's ability to perceive that distinction. Deutscher's account of the evolution of linguistic theory about color perception is a tour de force of scientific writing for a general audience - it is both crystal clear and a pleasure to read.

Two factors contributed to my eventual disappointment with this book. The first is that, even after Deutscher's careful, eloquent, persuasive analysis, one's final reaction has to be a regretful "So what?" In the end, it all seems to amount to little of practical importance.

The second disappointment pertained only to the experience of reading this book on an Amazon Kindle. Reference is made throughout to a "color insert" which evidently contained several color wheels as well as up to a dozen color illustrations. This feature was completely absent from the Kindle edition, which had a severe adverse effect on the overall experience of reading this book. Obviously, this point is relevant only if you are contemplating reading the Kindle version - DON'T!

If it hadn't been for the lack of availability of key illustrations on the Kindle, I would have given the book 4 stars, but I feel obliged to deduct one because of the Kindle-related deficiencies.
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Tracked by 5 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 21 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 13, 2010 1:30:40 PM PDT
TA says:
I agree - loved the book but was frustrated by the lack of color pictures on the Kindle - obvously the book is much more satisfying in the hard-cover edition.

Posted on Oct 13, 2010 1:39:30 PM PDT
Karen Grant says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Nov 6, 2010 4:11:14 PM PDT
James Jiao says:
This is supposed to be a review on the BOOK, not on the Kindle system. It's totally unfair to the author! Maybe you should've considered that before rashly giving this book a three star.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 17, 2010 4:32:28 PM PST
--This is supposed to be a review on the BOOK, not on the Kindle system--

I disagree. There may be people who might be considering getting the Kindle version of the book, in which case I hope my remarks would be helpful. The defects in the Kindle version may not be the author's fault, but they are relevant to potential buyers. I will let others judge the validity of your accusation that my review was "totally unfair to the author". Perhaps they will notice that I wrote that the book deserved 4 stars if not for the missing content on the Kindle, a point that you seem to have overlooked.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 6, 2010 6:42:30 PM PST
K. Fowler says:
Actually, I'm one of the people David is referring to. I just bought a Kindle and have been wanting to buy this book for a few months now. I came to the review section specifically to see if there was a reason to not buy the Kindle version. And apparently there is. Thanks, David.

Posted on Dec 10, 2010 5:21:15 AM PST
sledman5 says:
I simply wish to echo the comments about the difficulty of following the narative, lacking the color examples. While I am pleased with my Kindle, DO NOT purchase this otherwise fine book for the Kindle.

Posted on Jan 1, 2011 9:57:11 PM PST
S. Brown says:
Why is this review deemed critical? I have two complaints about the book. (1)The figure references should have been on the page opposite the reference, or the references should have been given page numbers. (2) I believe too much time was spent on Homer/Gladstone. It seems to me that the key points could have been made with far fewer pages.

Posted on Feb 11, 2011 4:25:25 PM PST
Zhong Wang says:
I purchased Unbroken (Kindle version) recently. Although pictures in that book are shown in low resolution on Kindle, I was surprised to find that the same pictures appear in high resolution on my laptop computer when I use Kindle-for-PC. So I'm wondering: have you tried to read this book via Kindle-on-PC (or Kindle-on-Mac, Kindle-on-iPhone, etc.) to see whether the color charts appear there?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 15, 2011 6:43:48 AM PDT
D. Knight says:
James, you are correct that this is supposed to be a review of the book--and that is what it is. One of the MANY reasons people read the reviews on Amazon is to find out if there is something wrong with a particular version of the book. I was looking at reviews yesterday that were warning people to stay away from one particular hardcover version of a book--information that was very useful to me. If all you are interested in a scholarly review of the words in a book, then google it; a professional review should be posted on the web somewhere. But these are user reviews, and it is unreasonable for you to expect it to follow the same rules you'd find apply to professional reviews (nor would I want them to).

I personally appreciate knowing about the flaw in the Kindle version.

Posted on May 14, 2011 4:02:35 AM PDT
I just got the paperback version of the book. There are a few pages with photos and graphics on colored pages in the middle, but just from looking at them briefly I cannot imagine one misses anything worth mentioning without them. IMHO too much fuzz about those graphics here. There are 2-3 pieces that are probably of importance for a paragraph in the book each, as support, but that's it. For example, there's a photo of a rainbow or a graphics of visible light spectrum (basically a rainbow too) - now everyone knows how that looks like without requiring a photo or graphics.
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