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Do I Make Myself Clear?: Why Writing Well Matters Hardcover – Import, May 16, 2017
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"Sir Harold Evans' memoir-cum-craft manual in which he rollicks - with all the joy and adventurousness of a rock 'n' roll tell-all...Of the truly silly number of hours I've spent with my nose in the binding of books on the craft of writing, those I spent with Do I Make Myself Clear? were the only I spent smiling, in search of someone I could read aloud to."―NPR
"Have you heard of Harold Evans? Sir Harold Evans? Of course you have. He is one of the greatest and most garlanded editors alive....As a master editor and distinguished author, Evans is well qualified to instruct us on how to write well. But can he delight us in the process? After reading this book, I can affirm the answer is yes."―Jim Holt, New York Times Book Review
"A writing manual so smart and incisive that it could surely benefit anyone-journalist, student, business executive, legislator-who has ever tried to craft an English sentence and fallen short."―Malcolm Jones, Daily Beast
"Going well beyond the typical style guide's proscriptions against the passive voice, cliché, and so on, this polemic on writing takes the view that "the oppressive opaqueness" of much contemporary prose "is a moral issue."―New Yorker
"Evans's book offers plenty of practical advice for those seeking to improve their writing skills, with a 10-point checklist to encourage a clear approach."―Financial Times
"In the tradition of George Orwell, who said that political language is designed to make lies sound truthful, Harry Evans reminds us how important it is to write clearly. Then he shows how. Those of us who have been edited by Harry marvel at his dexterity in unclogging dense prose, and in this book he reveals his secrets."―Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs and The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution
"A timely reminder that precision of language is the writer's greatest weapon. Harry Evans' methodical research and wry eye provide an entertaining lesson in intent, measured and exacting. At a time when public debate is shrill and filled by the overly assertive, Evans gives us a treat of a book that, through the use of practical examples, allows us to bathe in a language of clarity. Do I Make Myself Clear? shows that writing remains the gift of the ultimate explorer. Make more time for the journey."―David Walmsley, Editor-in-Chief, The Globe and Mail
Harry Evans is one of the great -- indeed legendary -- editors of our time. Over the course of his career, he has edited newspapers, books and magazines, which surely qualifies as a publishing trifecta. All his talents -- and irresistible charm -- are on display in Do I Make Myself Clear? It's much more than a guide to English usage -- it's a companion: informative, delightful and indispensable. Do not hit INT or SEND without it!―Christopher Buckley author of Thank You For Smoking
"Read this book before you write another word. As original as it is entertaining, Harold Evans' guided tour of every nuance of our language amounts to a masterly reappraisal of English usage for our times by a consummate editor turned writer."―Anthony Holden editor of Poems that Make Grown Men Cry
About the Author
Harold Evans is a British-born journalist and writer who was editor of the Sunday Times from 1967 to 1981. A graduate of Durham University, he has written a number of bestselling histories. He followed the late Alistair Cooke in commentaries on America for the BBC. An American citizen since 1993, he has held positions as editor-in-chief of the Atlantic Monthly Press, founding editor of the prize-winning Conde Nast Traveler; editorial director of the Atlantic and US News and the New York Daily News; and president and publisher of Random House. He holds the British Press Awards' Gold Award for Lifetime Achievement of Journalists. In 2001 British journalists voted him the all-time greatest British newspaper editor, and in 2004 he was knighted. Since 2011, he has been editor-at-large for Reuters.
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This is not a tour of the rules of grammar. If you seek scolding by a grammarian, you won’t find it here. If you seek a guide to short-form Twitterspeak, look elsewhere. But if you are serious about writing as a craft this book is worth study.
Some reviewers have confused “short” with “concise”. The author points out the contrast, which some readers have missed. His prose is concise and readable, rich in ideas and examples, remaining true to the clarity he advocates. The man practices what he preaches.
This can result in lengthy sentences, but no matter because his meaning is always clear. If there is any fault in the text it is in the repetition of examples. Evans' approach is slow and deliberate—each example has something subtle to teach.
And some lessons are not so subtle. Poor language can have life-or-death consequences, as Evans amply illustrates.
His numerous examples may seem tedious, but they are skimmable for those who prefer to walk on by. For others, Evans has dropped nuggets of wit by the trailside to reward the sharp-eyed reader. Such as, "..his writing had the thud of jelly spooned onto a paper plate." And, “Chief executives should have word tasters just as the Borgias had food tasters.”
Note to critics of the book: the expertise shared by Evans is not easy to win. It takes hard work and this volume is an excellent testament to his lifetime of learning.
The growth of “alternative facts” and the “fog” caused by misinformation are clouding our society and indeed our democracy’s ability to function properly. In this digital age the right words are oxygen to our ideas, as a desire to be precise is vanishing from our culture and writing of every kind is trending towards more speed and information but far less clarity. And this growing amount of misinformation comes from the very top of our leadership as countless Tweets spew out of the Oval Office, distracting reporters and society from what’s really important and how we might come together to solve some of our pressing problems.
Harold Evans proved to be a keen observer of our time and country as well as in writing. A former editor of the Times of London and recipient of the British Gold Award for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism, he was knighted and is currently the editor at large for Reuters. Oftentimes it takes an outsider like de Tocqueville to see through the veneer of our society and articulate what’s really happening and what the implications might be for the future.
The author provides excellent advice on what good writing is. He provides a clear explanation of what makes a cliché, a well-defined phrase “so hackneyed as to be knock-kneed and spavined.” But goes on to point out that they serve a natural inclination for quick vocabulary in daily social encounters and provides several humorous examples such as “horny as a three-peckered billy goat” and goes on to provide six more pages of examples.
He goes on to provide examples of how “zombies” and “flesh-eaters” threaten prose. A “zombie” is a noun that has devoured a verb, so document becomes “documentation” and participate becomes “participation.” The “flesh eaters” are unnecessary words, pompous phrases and “propositional parasites” that eat space and reduce the strength of one’s writing, so “Named” becomes “A man/woman by the name of” and “stay” becomes “continue to remain.”
The author also tells impressive stories on the power of words and how their authors were inspired to articulate what they felt. Like FDR following the bombing of Pearl Harbor when he “deleted the murmuring commas in the opening sentence and came up with the killer phrase live in infamy set between two dagger-point dashes.”
He also shows how words make reality incomprehensible, such as a rental car warranty. He adds some humor to one example of this triple talk with, “The cost of any repairs carried out on the instructions of the Renter or Driver without the prior written approval of the Owner shall be the responsibility of the Renter” to which the author responds with a “Who dat?”
As a student of sociology and history, I was delighted at the timely social commentary which permeated the book. He says that “Donald Trump was a joke until he wasn’t.” He refers to a piece in the Wall Street Journal which suggested a parallel to the presidential election and “the last dark age of Western politics” and compares Trump with Benito Mussolini with parallels that include a growing belief that democracy was rigged and that immigrants were plundering the economy. The author points out that these are similarities and that the readers should not be indifferent to the parallels.
Other interesting social commentary includes a look at the revision in the test of the Social Security act of December 2015 and May 2016 as an example of “social and political ‘meanness’ like Kafka waking up in Bleak House.” Where “language defies understanding and, in the best Orwellian tradition, the text imposing cuts in Social Security benefits is headed “Protecting Social Security Benefits.” And “vast numbers of Americans fail to claim the money they could. There are more than nine thousand different claiming options—and the administration is prohibited by law from giving case-by-case personal advice.” He strengthens his point with, “But the millions of people who have paid a lifetime of dues are entitled to clearer English than is found in the 2,728 rules governing Social Security and the Program Operations Manual System which are thicker than the Bible, to the point that the Social Security Administration stopped printing them in the 1980s.
Evans not only provides practical examples of how editing and rewriting can make for better communication, even in the digital age, but provides insightful commentary on our times with cutting satire and graceful charm.
If you liked Lynne Truss 'Eats,Shoots & Leaves', you will thoroughly enjoy this more ample approach to clear communication via the written word.
Most recent customer reviews
tendentious portrayals of the protagonists while lacking profound understanding of the issues, especially historically shallow.