Crystal has this enviable ability to explain what is fundamentally complex clearly and comprehensively. Language and languages were my professional business when working. I just wish that much of what he has to say had been available when I was still active in the field. His comments on what should be taught in schools are especially valuable as the UK at last seems to be stirring out of its linguistic imperialism and indolence. Should be required reading for all involved in teaching.
One reviewer here claims the small print stopped him from completing the book, but although it is set in TheAntique font (10 point, I'd guess) so it does demand well-corrected vision, the paperback runs to 500 pages as it is. The style here is direct and informal, and any non-specialist (albeit with good conversational English) will easily navigate the trickier bits. Crystal has been a founding proponent of Internet Linguistics and this is referred to in the book, esp. in Chapter 24. All but one of the 73 chapter titles begins "How...", e.g. "How the brain handles language". The author was around 65 when the book was published so could draw on a lifetime of witnessing change in the language, his conclusion being that English must not become 'brittle' - its inconsistencies and variations should be seen as necessary tolerances, allowing it to stay supple and alive. Highly recommended.
This book provides easy going summaries of everything to do with language. Students of linguistics will find it useful as it contains a background to all the usual things included in a linguistics degree from phonology to the origins of language. Invaluable.
Why do languages die? How are they born? How do we make speech sounds? How do we write? All these questions and many more are asked and answered in this fascinating book by one of the countries leading authorities on the english language - David Crystal.
I actually only bought this as it was on my university reading list, but I have since developed a keen interest in language and ended up buying his other book 'stories of English'!. (equally worthy of your hard earned cash)
And to the negative reviewer below; this is a book about how language works, not about how the study of language works.