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The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century Paperback – September 22, 2015
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“[The Sense of Style] is more contemporary and comprehensive than “The Elements of Style,” illustrated with comic strips and cartoons and lots of examples of comically bad writing. [Pinker’s] voice is calm, reasonable, benign, and you can easily see why he’s one of Harvard’s most popular lecturers.”
—The New York Times
“Pinker's linguistical learning…is considerable. His knowledge of grammar is extensive and runs deep. He also takes a scarcely hidden delight in exploding tradition. He describes his own temperament as "both logical and rebellious." Few things give him more pleasure than popping the buttons off what he takes to be stuffed shirts.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“[W]hile The Sense of Style is very much a practical guide to clear and compelling writing, it’s also far more…. In the end, Pinker’s formula for good writing is pretty basic: write clearly, try to follow the rules most of the time—but only the when they make sense. It’s neither rocket science nor brain surgery. But the wit and insight and clarity he brings to that simple formula is what makes this book such a gem.”
“Erudite and witty… With its wealth of helpful information and its accessible approach, The Sense of Style is a worthy addition to even the most overburdened shelf of style manuals.”
“Forget Strunk and White’s rules—cognitive science is a surer basis for clear and cogent writing, according to this iconoclastic guide from bestselling Harvard psycholinguist Pinker... Every writer can profit from—and every writer can enjoy—Pinker’s analysis of the ways in which skillfully chosen words engage the mind.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred)
“Yet another how-to book on writing? Indeed, but this is one of the best to come along in many years, a model of intelligent signposting and syntactical comportment…Pinker's vade mecum is a worthy addition to any writer’s library.”
“In this witty and practical book on the art of writing, Pinker applies insights from the sciences of language and mind to the crafting of clear, elegant prose: #requiredreading.”
—Publishers Weekly, PW pick Fall 2014 Announcements
“Who better than a best-selling linguist and cognitive scientist to craft a style guide showing us how to use language more effectively?”
“[A] dense, fascinating analysis of the many ways communication can be stymied by word choice, placement, stress, and the like. [Pinker’s] explanations run rich and deep, complemented by lists, cartoons, charts on diagramming sentences, and more.”
“This book is a graceful and clear smackdown to the notion that English is going to the proverbial dogs. Pinker has written the Strunk & White for a new century while continuing to discourage baseless notions such as that the old slogan should have been ‘Winston tastes good AS a cigarette should.’”
—John McWhorter, author of Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue and The Power of Babel
“Great stuff! Only Steven Pinker could have written this marvelous book, and thank heaven he has. ‘Good writing can flip the way the world is perceived,’ he writes, and The Sense of Style will flip the way you think about good writing. Pinker’s curiosity and delight illuminate every page, and when he says style can make the world a better place, we believe him.”
—Patricia T. O’Conner, author of Woe Is I and, with Stewart Kellerman, Origins of the Specious
About the Author
- Publisher : Penguin Books; Reprint edition (September 22, 2015)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 368 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0143127799
- ISBN-13 : 978-0143127796
- Lexile measure : 1260L
- Item Weight : 11.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.33 x 0.75 x 7.98 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #20,502 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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The Sense of Style is a scholarly and witty book on the art of writing well. Bestselling author, linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker provides readers with a new writing-guide for the twenty-first century. He breaks down grammar rules and challenges purists on the best use of language. This challenging 368-page book includes the following six chapters: 1. Good Writing, 2. A Window onto the World, 3. The Curse of Knowledge, 4. The Web, the Tree, and the String, 5. Arcs of Coherence, and 6. Telling Right from Wrong.
1. Dr. Pinker consistently produces quality work.
2. A "very" unique topic, the art of writing well from a scientific perspective. You don't have to read the book to get my joke.
3. Good use of wit that adds panache to a book about writing style.
4. Good advice throughout the book. "By replacing dogma about usage with reason and evidence, I hope not just to avoid giving ham-fisted advice but to make the advice that I do give easier to remember than a list of dos and don'ts."
5. Explains the three main reasons why style matters.
6. Provides insights on how to become a good writer. "Writers acquire their technique by spotting, savoring, and reverse-engineering examples of good prose."
7. Supports good style over writing dogma. "The key to good style, far more than obeying any list of commandments, is to have a clear conception of the make-believe world in which you're pretending to communicate." "The purpose of writing is presentation, and its motive is disinterested truth. It succeeds when it aligns language with the truth, the proof of success being clarity and simplicity."
8. The characteristics of classic style. "A writer of classic prose must simulate two experiences: showing the reader something in the world, and engaging her in conversation."
9. Provides many examples of what constitutes poor prose: "Metadiscourse, signposting, hedging, apologizing, professional narcissism, clichés, mixed metaphors, metaconcepts, zombie nouns, and unnecessary passives."
10. Hanlon's Razor, "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." Excellent explanation on how the curse of knowledge may lead to poor prose. "The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation I know of why good people write bad prose."
11. Ways on how to improve your prose. "Good prose is never written by a committee." Think about that.
12. The importance of understanding syntax. "Finally, an awareness of syntax can help you avoid ambiguous, confusing, and convoluted sentences. All of this awareness depends on a basic grasp of what grammatical categories are, how they differ from functions and meanings, and how they fit into trees."
13. Interesting insights on how our minds work and how that knowledge benefits good writing. "English syntax demands subject before object. Human memory demands light before heavy. Human comprehension demands topic before comment and given before new."
14. How to construct coherent passages longer than a sentence. "In fact, it's the hunger for coherence that drives the entire process of understanding language."
15. Discusses principles of composition. "An important principle in composition is that the amount of verbiage one devotes to a point should not be too far out of line with how central it is to the argument. "
16. Discusses good use of grammar, word choice, and punctuation. Starts off by debunking the myth that all traditional rules must be followed for dogma's sake. "That's right: when it comes to correct English, there's no one in charge; the lunatics are running the asylum. The editors of a dictionary read a lot, keeping their eyes open for new words and senses that are used by many writers in many contexts, and the editors add or change the definitions accordingly. Purists are often offended when they learn that this is how dictionaries are written."
17. Presents a list of common usage issues. "These are the ones that repeatedly turn up in style guides, pet-peeve lists, newspaper language columns, irate letters to the editor, and inventories of common errors in student papers." Great stuff.
18. Includes notes, glossary and a formal bibliography.
1. This book is intended for writers, not for laypersons. You must possess good command of the English language and grammar in order for this book to make sense. The grammar jargon will overwhelm the average reader.
2. The book's formatting leads to confusion. For a book predicated on clarity, many times I was lost.
3. The writing may come across as pretentious.
4. I wanted more neuroscience.
In summary, there is a direct correlation between the number of stars this book deserves and your expertise on the subject. English majors and writers will give this book either four or five stars. On the other hand, laypersons will struggle with it to say the least. I'm giving this book four stars because even though my engineering brethren balks at reading such a book the avid reader in me recognizes its value. Writers will enjoy this book while the rest will struggle with it.
Further recommendations: " The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition " by William Strunk Junior, " On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction " by William Zinsser, " A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Seventh Edition: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing) " by Kate L. Turabian, " The Only Grammar Book You'll Ever Need: A One-Stop Source for Every Writing Assignment " by Susan Thurman and Larry Shea, " Book Writing Mistakes (How To Avoid The Top 12 Mistakes New Business Book Authors Make) " by Jim Edwards, " How to Write Great Blog Posts that Engage Readers (Better Blog Booklets Book 1) " by Steve Scott, " English Grammar For Dummies " by Geraldine Woods, and " Grammar Girl's Punctuation 911: Your Guide to Writing it Right (Quick & Dirty Tips) " by Mignon Fogarty.
The book is primarily intended to help what I would call expository writing (papers, technical articles, user manuals, and so on), but it will help anyone who wants to improve their writing. If you write professionally or casually, or even just for personal pleasure, and think there's room for improvement, get this book. You'll find something in it for you.
Top reviews from other countries
However, I agree with others that this is not a read for someone with only a casual interest in the subject, or someone looking for a prescriptive guide to writing well; you need a real delight in language and its use to push on to the end. So, yes, some of it is quite hard going. But, speaking of the end, for me, the last few paragraphs on the principles governing critical thinking and factual diligence were worth the price of the book alone. Wise and powerful advice for any thoughtful person, whether a writer or not.
I hope you find my review helpful.
The first couple of chapters are superb and much more the sort of thing I was expecting: Professor Pinker gives us examples of writers’ prose and explains to us what makes them so good. The remainder – and bulk - of the book is an examination of grammar, usage and punctuation. One chapter, featuring tree diagrams of sentence structure, is exceedingly complicated and, it must be said, extremely boring. Personally, I would have liked to have heard more about prosody, defined by the author in his excellent glossary as “the melody, timing, and rhythm of speech”. (Not keen on that Oxford comma myself.)
Fortunately, Steven Pinker is a very entertaining writer; he throws in jokes and witty asides and some very funny cartoons. It is certainly unusual to find Yiddishisms in a guide to writing better English! He is pleasingly relaxed about the rules too; above all, writers should make themselves clear to their readers. If a sentence has to be read through a second time, it hasn’t worked. All in all, I would say this is a worthwhile addition to the reference bookshelf….though the professor has made me more nervous about my writing rather than more confident. I’m pretty sure this was not his intention!
(His actual words in eg: Frankenstein = fictional scientist vs a monster are 'give it up')
The whole point of the tale was the process, the hope, the disillusionment, the flawed outcome, all of which is somewhat lost if it's just 'the' monster, and leads also to a loss of inference if we talk of socialism as having Frankenstein (Frankenstinian, if you will) tendencies with unanticipated consequences, or using it to describe quite aptly the risks and hopes of atomic power, or genetically modified foods.
Still, if "Cybermen are way scarier Frankensteins than Aliens" makes sense to kids, I guess that's next-gen English 4u.
It highlights one of the themes of the book: that language is down to purpose, usage and effectiveness, and within that usage there is personal choice, as here in support of a sloppy or poor understanding of the original, where elsewhere he stands by the 'purist' and decries the sloppy.
Overall, an excellent and enjoyable read.
Finally, if you are looking for a book that can point you in the right direction to become a better writer, I would recommend First You Write A Sentence by Joe Moran, an absolute gem.