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The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature [Kindle Edition]

Steven Pinker
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The Stuff of Thought is an exhilarating work of non-fiction. Surprising, thought-provoking and incredibly enjoyable, there is no other book like it - Steven Pinker will revolutionise the way you think about language. He analyses what words actually mean and how we use them, and he reveals what this can tell us about ourselves. He shows how we use space and motion as metaphors for more abstract ideas, and uncovers the deeper structures of human thought that have been shaped by evolutionary history. He also explores the emotional impact of language, from names to swear words, and shows us the full power that it can have over us. And, with this book, he also shows just how stimulating and entertaining language can be.

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Product Description


Astonishingly readable (Daily Telegraph)

Perceptive, amusing and intelligent (Times)

No one writes about language as clearly as Steven Pinker, and this is his best book yet (Financial Times)

Immensely readable and stimulating. Pinker is a master at making complex ideas palatable (Independent)

Awesome ... Pinker writes lucidly and elegantly, and leavens the text with scores of perfectly judged anecdotes, jokes, cartoons and illustrations (Daily Mail)

David Crystal, Financial Times

'No one writes about language as clearly as Steven Pinker, and this is his best book yet'

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1971 KB
  • Print Length: 524 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1846140501
  • Publisher: Penguin (5 Jun. 2008)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002RUA55Q
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #133,848 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Steven Pinker is one of the world's leading authorities on language and the mind. His popular and highly praised books include The Stuff of Thought, The Blank Slate, Words and Rules, How the Mind Works, and The Language Instinct. The recipient of several major awards for his teaching, books, and scientific research, Pinker is Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He also writes frequently for The New York Times, Time, The New Republic, and other magazines.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
61 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 23 July 2008
In all honesty, this is the first of Steven Pinker's books that I've read, coming to him roundabout through Noam Chomsky and a couple of other sources. It is a great book though, it has to be admitted, not what you would call a holiday pulp read.

If you don't have a background in linguistics (I don't but have a keen interest) then some of the early chapters about speech parsing, which form the foundation for much to come are (by necessity) fairly technical, and might be slightly heavy going. That said, even these parts are written lucidly and attempt to make the material more accessible to a wider audience, largely with some success.

Inevitably, the most accessible parts of the book come when talking about naming (with a slight crossover with Leavitt and Dubner's excellent Freakonomics) and swearing. There's a nice little sidestep in this chapter when Pinker starts by appearing to be squeamish about introducing the words under discussion before finally laying them out in all their "glory". Another section I found interesting was his critique of some of the alternative theories of language acquisition currently in circulation, where he managed to present many of the competing ideas in as fair a way as I think he could, though it was made clear where his own standpoint was.

If you have an interest in linguistics or some of the psychology surrounding it, then I think this book is one you should have no reservations about purchasing.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beneath the Language 27 Aug. 2011
By John M. Ford TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
Stephen Pinker continues his career-long mission to teach the reading public about language. His focus is neither the mechanics of grammar nor the neurological structures that make language possible. Instead he describes mental processes that immediately support language such as metaphor, features that distinguish related sets of words, and the sketchily incomplete mental models we build as we interpret each other's words.

To convince us that small distinctions in language can make a real-world difference, Pinker opens with an insurance claim from the September 11, 2001 destruction of the two World Trade Center towers. The insurer had an upper limit on what they would pay for any single "event" that damaged the buildings. Was the damage caused by the single event of a terrorist attack, as claimed by the insurer? Or was it caused by the separate events of two airplane crashes, as counter-claimed by the buildings' owners? There was no clear answer in the careful legal language of the insurance contract.

There are two ways to read Pinker's book. The first is to read the whole thing, from introduction to closing paragraph. He describes the mental models we build while understanding and reasoning with language. Metaphor helps us use our concrete experience, such as the up/down distinction created by gravity, to inform more abstract dimensions such as better/worse. Pinker also explores the social dimensions that allow us to negotiate relationships while seeming to simply convey information. Having outlined the basics, Pinker turns to more entertaining aspects of language to sharpen our understanding. There is a far-ranging discussion of profanity which describes the "correct" way to swear and explains why some words are taboo.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful words 19 Jan. 2008
Pinker has done it again; another book of mesmerising intelligence and very smart ideas. But be warned: this book is not easy to digest, notwithstanding the lucidity of the writing. But then it deserves to be read very closely indeed: there is so much punch and weight on almost every page.

Pinker has already destroyed the simplistic notion that human nature is a social phenomenon, demonstrating how much of our behaviour and psychology is a product of our genetic evolution, and therefore instinctive.

In this book, he shows how language has evolved to reflect the mental concepts we have developed to make sense of the world: that is to say, although the real world may exist 'out there', it is mediated through our senses and the brain's interpretation of the data that they send to it. The concepts relate to time and space, matter and causality - and these concepts have been woven into our language. Pinker shows how, and does so in his characteristically enthusiastic, witty fashion.

A fabulous read and an intellectual treat.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Magnificently Mind-Enriching Tour-de-Force 18 Jun. 2009
This is a truly remarkable book. Pinker has a way of making a reader think simply about complex concepts, using a writing style that is entertaining and stimulating in itself, as well as perfectly precise. This is one of those books which can definitely change a reader's life, making it necessary to perceive life, language and social interaction in a wholly different way. At times, following the thread takes some concentration, particularly when the technical terminology of linguistic concepts must be held in memory, but this effort is always rewarding. Pinker leads us through a mind-expanding, multi-dimensional space, exploring the many relationships of language to thought and exercising those parts of the mind that we normally allow to perform routine assessments. It's possible that, after you read this book, your routine will be subtly changed and enriched, and this notion adds to the pleasure of its reading. A wonderful book!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Not the simplest of journeys but very, very definitely worth taking...
Published 1 month ago by Mike Pelton
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Great read that really inspires
Published 10 months ago by guy holland
5.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating stuff
Bought it as I was some way through reading my sons paperback version when he moved away from home and took it with him. Interesting thinker, is Mr Steven Pinker
Published 10 months ago by Mr. T. J. Staffell
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent copy
Published 12 months ago by Ogundayo O.
3.0 out of 5 stars not as gripping as The Better Angels of Our Nature...
Stephen Pinker's books is intended to give us a view of human nature that emerges from the study of language. Read more
Published 20 months ago by William Jordan
4.0 out of 5 stars Not for the faint-hearted
I'm finding it tough going but learning a lot in the process. If, like me, you are fascinated with the language we speak then you'll get through it. Read more
Published 23 months ago by R. J. Brooker
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought's Clothing
Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought

Steven Pinker in his Preface to this examination of language function warns the reader that `the early chapters occasionally dip into... Read more
Published on 29 Aug. 2012 by Mr. D. James
4.0 out of 5 stars The Language Window - clear, opaque and translucent
Pinker is a very clear speaker and writer and his books on language and linguistics range from ideal for the non-linguistic student/reader to definitely for the specialist. Read more
Published on 26 Aug. 2011 by RR Waller
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing and flawed
I was looking forward to reading this immensely - but was so disappointed I still haven't struggled past the first 300 pages. Read more
Published on 22 Oct. 2010 by Deacon
5.0 out of 5 stars Theoretical discussion of language
Steven Pinker's enthusiasm about language comes through everywhere in this book - which is a good thing, because the subject matter itself is dense and complex. Read more
Published on 1 Sept. 2009 by Rolf Dobelli
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