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The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century Paperback – 3 Sep 2015

4.2 out of 5 stars 85 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (3 Sept. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0241957710
  • ISBN-13: 978-0241957714
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,752 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

Praise for "The Sense of Style"
"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."
--"Kirkus Reviews"
"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?"
--"Library Journal"
"[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."
--"Booklist "
"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"
Praise for "The Better Angels of Our Nature"
"A supremely important book...a masterly achievement." --The New York Times Book Review
"Masterly." --The Wall Street Journal
"One of the most important books I've read--not just this year, but ever." --Bill Gates
Praise for "The Stuff of Thought"
"Packed with information...Clear, witty, attractively written." --The New York Review of Books
"A display of fiercely intricate intelligence." --The Times (London)
"Engaging and provocative . . . It's good to have a mind as lively and limpid as his bringing the ideas of cognitive science to the public."
--Douglas Hofstadter, Los Angeles Times
"Curious, inventive, fearless, naughty." --The New York Times
Praise for "The Blank Slate"
"Sweeping, erudite, sharply argued, and fun to read . . . also highly persuasive." --Time
"Ought to be read by anybody who . . . thinks they already know where they stand on the science wars. . . . It could change their minds."
--The Economist
"Pinker is a star, and the world of science is lucky to have him." --Richard Dawkins
--quotes

Praise for "The Sense of Style"
"["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."
--"Time.com"
"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."
--"Shelf Awareness"
"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."
--"Kirkus Reviews"
"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?"
--"Library Journal"
"[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."
--"Booklist "
"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"
Praise for "The Better Angels of Our Nature"
"A supremely important book...a masterly achievement."
--"The New York Times Book Review"
"Masterly."
--"The Wall Street Journal"
"One of the most important books I've read--not just this year, but ever."
--Bill Gates
Praise for "The Stuff of Thought"
"Packed with information...Clear, witty, attractively written."
--"The New York Review of Books"
"A display of fiercely intricate intelligence."
--"The Times" (London)
"Engaging and provocative . . . It's good to have a mind as lively and limpid as his bringing the ideas of cognitive science to the public."
--Douglas Hofstadter, "Los Angeles Times"
"Curious, inventive, fearless, naughty."
--"The New York Times"
Praise for "The Blank Slate"
"Sweeping, erudite, sharply argued, and fun to read . . . also highly persuasive."
--"Time"
"Ought to be read by anybody who . . . thinks they already know where they stand on the science wars. . . . It could change their minds."
--"The Economist"
"Pinker is a star, and the world of science is lucky to have him." --Richard Dawkins
--quotes

Praise for "The Sense of Style"


"["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."
--"Time.com"
"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."
--"Shelf Awareness"
"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."
--"Kirkus Reviews"
"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?"
--"Library Journal"
"[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."
--"Booklist "
"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"

Praise for "The Better Angels of Our Nature"
"A supremely important book...a masterly achievement."
--"The New York Times Book Review"
"Masterly."
--"The Wall Street Journal"
"One of the most important books I've read--not just this year, but ever."
--Bill Gates
Praise for "The Stuff of Thought"


"Packed with information...Clear, witty, attractively written."
--"The New York Review of Books"
"A display of fiercely intricate intelligence."
--"The Times" (London)
"Engaging and provocative . . . It's good to have a mind as lively and limpid as his bringing the ideas of cognitive science to the public."
--Douglas Hofstadter, "Los Angeles Times"
"Curious, inventive, fearless, naughty."
--"The New York Times"

Praise for "The Blank Slate"

"Sweeping, erudite, sharply argued, and fun to read . . . also highly persuasive."
--"Time"
"Ought to be read by anybody who . . . thinks they already know where they stand on the science wars. . . . It could change their minds."
--"The Economist"
"Pinker is a star, and the world of science is lucky to have him." --Richard Dawkins
-- quotes

Praise for "The Sense of Style"


["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.
"Time.com"
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.
"Shelf Awareness"
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.
"Kirkus Reviews"
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?
"Library Journal"
[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.
"Booklist "
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"

Praise for "The Better Angels of Our Nature"
"A supremely important book...a masterly achievement."
"The New York Times Book Review"
"Masterly."
"The Wall Street Journal"
"One of the most important books I've read--not just this year, but ever."
Bill Gates
Praise for "The Stuff of Thought"


"Packed with information...Clear, witty, attractively written."
"The New York Review of Books"
"A display of fiercely intricate intelligence."
"The Times" (London)
"Engaging and provocative . . . It's good to have a mind as lively and limpid as his bringing the ideas of cognitive science to the public."
Douglas Hofstadter, "Los Angeles Times"
"Curious, inventive, fearless, naughty."
"The New York Times"

Praise for "The Blank Slate"

"Sweeping, erudite, sharply argued, and fun to read . . . also highly persuasive."
"Time"
"Ought to be read by anybody who . . . thinks they already know where they stand on the science wars. . . . It could change their minds."
"The Economist"
"Pinker is a star, and the world of science is lucky to have him." Richard Dawkins
quotes"

Praise for The Sense of Style


[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]hileThe Sense of Styleis 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.
Time.com
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.
Shelf Awareness
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.
Kirkus Reviews
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?
Library Journal
[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.
Booklist
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

Praise for The Better Angels of Our Nature


"A supremely important book...a masterly achievement."
The New York Times Book Review
"Masterly."
The Wall Street Journal
"One of the most important books I've read--not just this year, but ever."
Bill Gates
Praise for The Stuff of Thought


"Packed with information...Clear, witty, attractively written."
The New York Review of Books
"A display of fiercely intricate intelligence."
The Times (London)
"Engaging and provocative . . . It's good to have a mind as lively and limpid as his bringing the ideas of cognitive science to the public."
Douglas Hofstadter, Los Angeles Times
"Curious, inventive, fearless, naughty."
The New York Times

Praise for The Blank Slate

"Sweeping, erudite, sharply argued, and fun to read . . . also highly persuasive."
Time
"Ought to be read by anybody who . . . thinks they already know where they stand on the science wars. . . . It could change their minds."
The Economist
"Pinker is a star, and the world of science is lucky to have him." Richard Dawkins


quotes" --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.

About the Author

An award-winning cognitive scientist and public intellectual, Steven Pinker is also Chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary and the lauded author of bestsellers such as The Language Instinct, Words and Rules, The Better Angels of Our Nature and The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature. He is Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University and lives in Boston & Truro, Massachusetts.


Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Hande Z TOP 500 REVIEWER on 17 Oct. 2014
Format: Hardcover
If you feel that you need an up-to-date version of 'The Complete Plain Words' (by Ernest Gowers), or have enjoyed 'The Elements of Style' (by White & Strunk) so much that you wish that there is a longer version of it, then Pinker's 'The Sense of Style' is what you are looking for. Chapter Four: `The Web, the Tree, and the String' may be the most important and useful chapter in this book because it teaches syntax, without which grammar becomes a wild horse. This chapter is technical and needs careful reading. My favourite chapter is chapter 6: `Telling Right from Wrong'. In this chapter Pinker takes a swipe at purists and pedants for misleading the reader and writer - 'in their zeal to purify usage and safeguard the language, they have made it difficult to think clearly about felicity in expression and have muddied the task of explaining the art of writing.' Chapter 6 is probably the essence of this book.
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Format: Paperback
I wonder if any bunch of Amazon reviews has ever been written with such a level of collective anxiety? :-)

I can't add much to what's been said. In a nutshell, this book is good, and well worth reading.

Most of the many books I've picked up on the subject of style have been put down again pretty quickly. Not because they are all bad (though some are) but because they don't seem to add much to what I originally learnt in the venerable classics -- Strunk & White; Fowler's Modern English Usage; Sir Ernest Gowers et al.

Pinker's book is one that I've stuck with to the end, and it was worth it. The topics are mostly the same as ever, but his voice seems fresh and authoritative. He's made me rethink a number of things I've lazily taken for granted over the decades. I now realise that knee-jerk pedantry is not a good thing. I always suspected it, but carried on regardless. I know better now.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Review courtesy of www.subtleillumination.com

Steven Pinker “writes like an angel.” – The Economist

Cotton clothing is made from is grown in Egypt. Did that sentence make sense to you? Probably not. It’s what’s called a garden path: a sentence that lures the reader into interpreting a phrase in one sense (in this case, cotton clothing), when in truth it is meant in another, a fact that is made clear only at the end of the sentence. They are, unsurprisingly, a good thing to avoid in good writing.

The Sense of Style is not really a prescriptive, ‘this is how to rite good,’ sort of guide, though some sections do give concrete guidelines. Instead, it is a study of what it is to write well; an effort to understand the basic principles that can illuminate and expose ideas in text.

The answer, Pinker argues, is to write in classic style; to write as if you were in conversation with the reader, directing their gaze to something in the world. Good writers ensure their readers don’t have to keep a lot of information in their memory as they read, share their drafts with others and read aloud while editing, and above all attempt to write clearly and coherently, presenting ideas in an order designed to make them clear to the reader, not in which they occurred to the author.

The book is good reading for anyone who spends their time writing, whether in academia, journalism, business, or anywhere else. Since I finished, I’ve found myself rereading many of my own sentences over with Steven Pinker’s principles in mind, and if my writing isn’t quite up to his standard yet, it’s improving.

A final comment: writing well is in many ways about thinking well, and in his parting comments Pinker gives advice that applies to both.
Read more ›
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Changes not just the way you write (one writes?) but how you (one?) thinks about the words, their order, and the structure of the logic of the writing itself. A bit wordy and perhaps Pinker tries too hard to make the case by overstating the case, and perhaps seeking to look relevant by picking quirky examples. Are all birds herons? But this is sensible advice but it is does prove the point that it is harder to write shorter and well. May explain why academic writing is so dense (and that is not a comment on the authors).

Regretfully, I doubt it will have much impact on the turgid prose so loved by academics, though to be fair, some writing in some journals has proved readily accessible and jargon-free. So it can be done! Bring on open access publishing, too!

Anyway, I'm going to rebuy the book (read on Kindle) so I can index it for my own use.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a provocative, well written book. I got a lot out of it, partly because it is humorous as well as seemingly well-informed (I only say "seemingly" because I use my native language with great pain).

One of the few books I take to bed.

I have found two chapters particularly useful: 4 on syntax (previously a closed door to me, having been educated in the 1970s) and 6 on pedants. (seems razor sharp; certainly funny).

A previous reviewer (Chris ap Alfred "Gofalus") thought that Stephen Jay Gould would have been a less controversial choice as a science writer than Richard Dawkins. Two points: first, Gould is greatly missed, but was hardly uncontroversial; second, you might disagree with Dawkins, but he can write! On the last point, I can admire the exquisite language of parts of the King James Bible without agreeing with the views that the original authors expressed.
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