The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century Hardcover – 4 Sep 2014
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Steven Pinker's The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century might be regarded as an update of Fowler, eschewing pedantry, convoluted or pompous sentence construction, cliché, and inflexible grammatical rules. Pinker is every bit as witty as Fowler, and writes in a similarly vigorous, direct and idiosyncratic manner. His book is accordingly much less boring than one might expect of a style manual. Indeed, it is often laugh-out-loud funny... Pinker knows that simplicity is more difficult to perfect than abstruse convolution. It helps enormously that he is such a beautiful stylist himself. Many of his sentences give great pleasure and he is never lofty or pleased with himself (Paula Byrne The Times)
Gentle humour accompanies Mr Pinker's good sense throughout the book, an antidote to bestselling, operatically irate usage guides that disparage those who disagree as idiots or barbarians. Mr Pinker explains eloquently not just what to do, but also why (Economist)
An outstanding source of wise advice (Times Oliver Kamm)
A thoughtful guide, tough-minded and up to date, for people who think they can write well but are willing to believe that they could write better (Henry Hitchings Guardian)
A canny and punchy polemic (Stevie Davies Independent)
From the Inside Flap
What is the secret of good prose? Does writing well even matter in an age of instant communication? Should we care? In this funny, thoughtful book about the modern art of writing, Steven Pinker shows us why we all need a sense of style.
More than ever before, the currency of our social and cultural lives is the written word, from Twitter and texting to blogs, e-readers and old-fashioned books. But most style guides fail to prepare people for the challenges of writing in the 21st century, portraying it as a minefield of grievous errors rather than a form of pleasurable mastery. They fail to deal with an inescapable fact about language: it changes over time, adapted by millions of writers and speakers to their needs. Confusing changes in the world with moral decline, every generation believes the kids today are degrading society and taking language with it. A guide for the new millennium, writes Steven Pinker, has to be different.
Drawing on the latest research in linguistics and cognitive science, Steven Pinker replaces the recycled dogma of previous style guides with reason and evidence. This thinking person's guide to good writing shows why style still matters: in communicating effectively, in enhancing the spread of ideas, in earning a reader's trust and, not least, in adding beauty to the world. Eye-opening, mind-expanding and cheerful, The Sense of Style shows that good style is part of what it means to be human. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
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.
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. Good writers, he suggests, look things up; make sure arguments are sound; don’t confuse a personal experience with the state of the world; avoid false dichotomies; and base arguments on reasons, not people. If you never write another word in your life, it’s still good advice.
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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