Customer Reviews


16 Reviews
5 star:
 (7)
4 star:
 (5)
3 star:
 (1)
2 star:
 (1)
1 star:
 (2)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


60 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
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...
Published on 23 July 2008 by ds

versus
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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.

Successive chapters look at a range of topics very familiar to philosophers who have theorised about these things without the benefit of the studies psychologists and others have carried out in recent years - do we have innate ideas and is that the...
Published 8 months ago by William Jordan


‹ Previous | 1 2 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

60 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, 23 July 2008
By 
ds (Whitby, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature (Paperback)
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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful words, 19 Jan 2008
By 
Peter Bracken (France) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


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
By 
Clifford (Weymouth, Dorset, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature (Paperback)
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!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


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 "johnDC" (near DC, MD USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
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. The discussion of the social dimension of naming ranges from generational fads to why some newly coined terms catch on and become part of the language. The long path through the book is satisfying and enjoyable.

The second approach is for the time-constrained or selective reader. In the final chapter, the author provides "...a word's-eye view of human nature, one that emerges from the phenomena of the [preceding] chapters..." This overview outlines the aspects of sensation, cognition, and social relations that shape and are shaped by language. One can read this section of the chapter in a few minutes and note which aspects are unexpected or intriguing. This subset is a guide to the most beneficial sections of the book. Not the full treatment, but still a good read.

This book is recommended for those readers looking for a better understanding of the relationship between language and thought.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not as gripping as The Better Angels of Our Nature..., 27 Dec 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature (Paperback)
Stephen Pinker's books is intended to give us a view of human nature that emerges from the study of language.

Successive chapters look at a range of topics very familiar to philosophers who have theorised about these things without the benefit of the studies psychologists and others have carried out in recent years - do we have innate ideas and is that the source of our ability to use language? does our use of language shape our view of the world? what is our concept of causation? how does metaphor work? how do names (of individuals and natural kinds) refer to things in the world? how does swearing and obscenity work? and what about 'conversational implicature', ie how we use language in ways that make it clear what we mean without saying precisely and literally what we mean.

The treatments of these subjects are generally persuasive, though the discussion is (for all the liveliness of Pinker's style) quite complex and hard going. So: we do have thought prior to speech, we have views about causation and the nature of agency that are probably quite askew from any kind of physics (Newtonian as much as Einstein and beyond - we think instead in terms of 'agonists' and 'antagonists'), metaphors are sometimes indeed dead, sometimes alive and sometimes literary, and there are wider reasons (to do with e.g. authority relationships or membership of a community) why we might not always say precisely and squarely what we mean. And swear words don't seem to work like other locutions grammatically and are more like ejaculations - but ones that place us in a social context as much as ones that express e.g. anger and so on in parts of the brain that otherwise don't much go in for language.

These are interesting conclusions, even if you have read the musings of philosophers on all this (Pinker cites Hume and Lewis on causation; Grice on conversational implicature, Kant on the nature of knowledge, Kripke and Putnam on rigid designators, and he might cite Davidson on metaphor and self-deception). It's probably more interesting if those ideas are new to the reader, however. And I suspect it would be more interesting again if Pinker were to link up this theory to some wider questions - notably how much of a hold does our 'conscious reason' have on our behaviour (see for example the books of Jonathan Haidt) and how far is our language linked to 'slow' as opposed to 'fast' thinking?

Overall not nearly as gripping - and not nearly as revelatory about human life - as his more recent book The Better Angels of Our Nature.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Theoretical discussion of language, 25 Aug 2009
By 
Rolf Dobelli "getAbstract" (Switzerland) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
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. This combination results in a curious reading experience: Pinker's lively style, many anecdotes and extreme lucidity pull you forward in the text, but the difficulty of the questions he raises could stump you for some time. He explores many linguistic theories in such depth that readers without a particular interest in the field may, frankly, get lost or find the book too abstract, despite Pinker's numerous attempts to ground his discussions in reality. Therefore, while this is a fine book, getAbstract recommends it primarily to patient readers who have a strong interest in language and philosophy. Bring along an open mind and a sense of humor, since Pinker explores language practices - such as obscenities and insults - that may provoke emotional responses.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great stuff!, 15 July 2009
By 
Ms. J. S. Rees "Judy Rees" (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature (Paperback)
Steven Pinker was already one of my favourite authors before this book propelled him into another league. Suddenly, a highly-respected academic and broadsheet media darling had declared to the world that metaphors matter! In Pinker's view, metaphors are a key aspect of 'the stuff of thought', the actual material of which thoughts are made.

For anyone with an interest in the impact of language on thought, thought on language, this book is mind-expanding. Wittily presented, and yet backed by solid research, here are the details of essential human cognitive processes and patterns. Every page is packed with information and ideas, which can make the book feel rather dense in places. But skim the heavy stuff and press on - this one is worth the effort.

And the very best bit? The book includes a reference to Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds :-)
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Theoretical discussion of language, 1 Sep 2009
By 
Rolf Dobelli "getAbstract" (Switzerland) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature (Paperback)
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. This combination results in a curious reading experience: Pinker's lively style, many anecdotes and extreme lucidity pull you forward in the text, but the difficulty of the questions he raises could stump you for some time. He explores many linguistic theories in such depth that readers without a particular interest in the field may, frankly, get lost or find the book too abstract, despite Pinker's numerous attempts to ground his discussions in reality. Therefore, while this is a fine book, getAbstract recommends it primarily to patient readers who have a strong interest in language and philosophy. Bring along an open mind and a sense of humor, since Pinker explores language practices - such as obscenities and insults - that may provoke emotional responses.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4.0 out of 5 stars A whistle-stop tour of cognitive linguistics, 30 Dec 2008
This review is from: The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature (Paperback)
Well, quite a whirlwind, this one. It took me over a year to read it (seriously) and I did this kind of stuff for my degree.

The subject matter is, should we say, abstruse to the average reader, but Pinker manages somehow to present it in a readable way. Really, when one stops to think and takes a step back it is quite awesome how he manages to dextrously weave together complex material with light-hearted anecdotes and illustrative examples.

Another feature of his work is his striking eclecticism upon which he draws to render this material digestible to the interested reader even if the subject itself is typically arid and uninspiring.

A feat of language, not just in terms of the themes it discusses but also the way in which it is written, perhaps a testimony to the man's command of the material and his quick-witted and perspicuous nature.

Hats off to you, Steven, a good piece of work, thoroughly enjoyed.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought's Clothing, 29 Aug 2012
By 
Mr. D. James "nonsuch" (london, uk) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature (Paperback)
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 technical topics.' That puts it mildly, for this is such a thorough and detailed analysis of the thing that makes us human that one is tempted to use the term `exhaustive' - except that, as Pinker shows us, nothing in this world, including space, time and substance is exhaustive. Even one schooled in linguistic analysis would be sorely tested, though surely fascinated, by the author's exploration of how we acquire and use the tool that enables man to function in a world that without him makes no sense.

With over 450 pages of closely argued and abundantly illustrated verbal and diagrammatical text the casual reader will inevitably struggle to keep afloat. The 60 pages of Notes, References and Index alone bear witness to the range of Steven Pinker's research. And if Pinker is not enough, the reader is invited to delve further into language theory - alphabetically from Abarbanell to Zwicky (yes, these are, I believe, real people) via Hume, Kant and Benjamin Lee Whorf.
Mercifully, for the layman the book is replete with homely examples of language in daily use. Thus the author shows us that someone we call William Shakespeare, whatever scholarly dissenters may maintain, did write Hamlet, many other plays and 154 sonnets, that names do mean something. He concludes that names are `ways to identify unbroken chains of person-to-person transmission through time, anchored to a specific event of dubbing in the past.'

I must confess to having recourse to the occasional re-reading of sentences like the above, but then I am not accustomed to thinking much about the relation between language and thought. Language is the essential tool we take for granted, but it has a history and a future, is volatile and an essential part of everyday existence, providing not only knowledge and information, but solace and humour. In which last this book abounds, despite the high seriousness of the topic; from known witticisms to strip cartoons this book is alive with fun and games: - Mother: `Would you like a piece of toast for breakfast?' Boy: `I'd rather have a whole one, thanks.' A middle-aged couple staring at a notice: `Please don't feed the duck.' He asks her if there isn't something strange about the notice. She asks why, so he begins to explain: `Well, "Duck" is singular. It seems if you don't want people feeding ducks, you'd make it plural: "Please do not feed the -" Final frame in the cartoon: QUACK! comes a voice from the pond. Focus on the notice. `Never mind,' says the man.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature
The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature by Steven Pinker (Paperback - 5 Jun 2008)
£7.69
In stock
Add to basket Add to wishlist
Only search this product's reviews