- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; 4th edition (December 18, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060937238
- ISBN-13: 978-0060937232
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #48,046 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Simple & Direct 4th Edition
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Rare is the book that causes one to consider--ponder? appraise? examine? inspect? contemplate?--one's every word. Simple & Direct, a classic text on the craft of writing by the educator Jacques Barzun, does so--with style. His object, says Barzun, is "to resensitize the mind to words." Do not use a word unless you know both its meaning and its connotations, its "quality" and its "atmosphere," and the ways in which it joins with other words. Barzun is an exacting taskmaster, railing against abstractions, "fancy" wordings, contemporary slang (which "prey[s] upon the vocabulary rather than nourish[es] it"), misprints ("it is rudeness to let them appear"), and the like. He bemoans what he sees as "a fury at work in the people to make war on hyphens," and he loathes those new words, such as condominium, that have been "cobbled together out of shavings and leftovers."
Still, no stodgy codger he. Barzun merely asks that you "have a point and make it by means of the best word." If that means splitting an infinitive or substituting a "which" for a "that," so be it. Just be sure that the decision to do so is conscious and informed. Once you've found the right word, you can move on to writing sentences and then leaning them against one another until they form paragraphs. Only when you've gotten it all down, says Barzun, should you allow yourself the pleasure of revision. "Unlike the sculptor," he says, "the writer can start carving and enjoying himself only after he has dug the marble out of his own head." --Jane Steinberg --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Born in France in 1907, Jacques Barzun came to the United States in 1920. After graduating from Columbia College, he joined the faculty of the university, becoming Seth Low Professor of History and, for a decade, Dean of Faculties and Provost. The author of some thirty books, including the New York Times bestseller From Dawn to Decadence, he received the Gold Medal for Criticism from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, of which he was twice president. He lived in San Antonio, Texas, before passing away at age 104.
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Top customer reviews
Some of the topics covered in SIMPLE & DIRECT are:
DICTION, or Which Word to Use. LINKING, or What to Put Next. TONE AND TUNE, or What Impression Will It Make? MEANING, or What do I Want to Say? COMPOSITION, or How Does It All Hang Together? REVISION, or What Have I Actually Said?
"Writing", the author says, "can only be self-taught.". This excellent little book will give you a practical, down-to-earth way to teach yourself how to write better.
The author, Jacques Barzun, was born in France, and died recently in El Paso, Texas. He has written several best-selling books, such as THE CULTURE WE DESERVE and FROM DAWN TO DECADENCE, both of which I own and value very highly.
This book is a must read every few years if you are a writer. It's not in most curriculums for some reason so it makes a great gift for high school or college age people interested in writing.
I wish more people would read this book then the world wouldn't be as full of crap writing as it woefully is.
In print for a quarter of a century (updated with a fourth edition in 2001), the book is a "handbook for whoever wants to conquer some of the permanent difficulties of writing prose".
Barzun recognises this challenge upfront: "Writing always presents problems, dilemmas, some of which beset all writers, even great ones; but there is no need to be baffled by all the difficulties every time you write."
The book is hard going at first because of the detailed explanations but once you grasp how he has broken English into its basic elements and then combines them it's difficult to put "Simple and Direct" down.
Barzun can be didactic but his gentle wit makes up for finger wagging. For instance on diction: "But his real interest lay elsewhere than the Court of George II." Barzun notes: "It turns out on further reading that his real interest (singular) did lie at the court; it was one of the ladies-in-waiting; but his real interests (plural), meaning what would be better for his fortune, lay in his country estate."
Finding the right tone can be torture. Barzun's advice: "The best tone is the tone called plain, unaffected, unadorned. It does not talk down or jazz up ... it does not try to dazzle or cajole the indifferent; it takes no posture of coziness or sophistication. It is the most difficult of all tones, also the most adaptable. When you can write plain you can trust yourself in special effects."
Structuring your writing for maximum interest and flow is challenging. His remedy: make a quick "shorthand" outline of your draft using a key word (or key words) for each paragraph. It helps disentangle your meaning and more effectively order your ideas.
This is one of the better books on writing and style. It's a useful companion to gems like "Elements of Style" (William Strunk Jr and E B White) and "Newsman's English" (Harold Evans) - revised in a modern edition as "Essential English".
"Simple and Direct" is a rewarding read for those determined to write better -- with economy, clarity, vigour -- and, most importantly, to be understood.
After reading a couple of reviews, and seeing that it had gone through four editions since first being published in 1975, I sprang for it (second hand on Amazon, of course.)
There are six chapters (Diction, Linking, Tone and Tune, Meaning, Composition and Revision). Each chapter has discussions and exercises (basically correcting errors in sentences and paragraphs), as well as examples of good writing. The book can work as a kind of textbook in a beginning or intermediate writing class; or as a supplement. However for a casual reader such as myself, looking for hints, clues and ideas, it was too much. I only did about 10% of the exercises.
I would only recommend this book for someone who was going to seriously engage it, with all the exercises.
The author, Jacques Barzun (a well-known academic; here's the opening line in Jacques Barzun - Wikipedia, "a leading American historian of ideas and culture. He has also eloquently defended tradition in the practice of higher education and scholarship.") wouldn't have been too impressed with the cliche I used in the second paragraph above "I sprang for it".