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The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st… (2014)

by Steven Pinker

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1,1392512,843 (3.86)19
" A short and entertaining book on the modern art of writing well by New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker Why is so much writing so bad, and how can we make it better? Is the English language being corrupted by texting and social media? Do the kids today even care about good writing? Why should any of us care? In The Sense of Style, the bestselling linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker answers these questions and more. Rethinking the usage guide for the 21st century, Pinker doesn't carp about the decline of language or recycle pet peeves from the rulebooks of a century ago. Instead, he applies insights from the sciences of language and mind to the challenge of crafting clear, coherent, and stylish prose. In this short, cheerful, and eminently practical book, Pinker shows how writing depends on imagination, empathy, coherence, grammatical knowhow,and an ability to savor and reverse-engineer the good prose of others. He replaces dogma about usage with reason and evidence, allowing writers and editors to apply the guidelines judiciously, rather than robotically, being mindful of what they are designed to accomplish. Filled with examples of great and gruesome prose, Pinker shows us how the art of writing can be a form of pleasurable mastery and a fascinating intellectual topic in its own right"--"Pinker has a lot of ideas and sometimes controversial opinions about writing and in this entertaining and instructive book he rethinks the usage guide for the 21st century. Don't blame the internet, he says, good writing has always been hard. It requires imagination, taking pleasure in reading, overcoming the difficulty we all have in imagining what it's like to not know something we do know"--… (more)
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Yet another style book, this one written by the famously knowledgeable psycholinguist Steven Pinker. His description of classic style is opaque and his explication of the linguistics of grammar gives both too much information and not enough to make it clear how school grammar gets it wrong. However, parts are delightful and I particularly liked his defense of the singular "they." It was a slog getting through the book, though. He's not as elegant a writer as he thinks he is. I still recommend it. ( )
  dmturner | Jun 29, 2020 |
I was thoroughly charmed by this well-written guide on how to write better. :)

Maybe it's because real language changes. Maybe it's because true clarity comes from the spaces between the words and not absolutely from the rules about the words.

But that's not to say that this cogent discussion on grammar isn't rife with practical examples and great reflection, because it does. It just happens to bring up the fact that one generation's Haberdash is another's charming fireside chat. Moreover, it uses humor, skepticism, and common sense to throw out the grammar nazism and return us back to the firm hand of insight and delight.

For writing should not be a chore.

It should edify, clarify, and wrap us up in a warm comforter and hand us a favorite beverage and ramble on about what it really loved about its day. Am I clear?

Rules are for chumps, yo. But learn them first before you break them. :)

(Advice I think I will always have to take to heart.) ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
What makes writing good? Is is a pedantic knowledge of of all the rules and having perfect grammar and punctuation or understanding those rules and knowing when to bend them? Writing well is not an easy task, ask any author who has a deadline, as it demands consistency and coherence. In this book the linguist Steve Pinker brings us the latest scientific understanding about what makes our language great.

The book is full of examples of how to write well, as well as illustrations of how not to do it. His wit and humour underlies all that he writes, as he outlines best practice, and then mentions that he disobeyed the rules in the paragraph before and did you notice? He has selected a number of cartoons to illustrate his points and has a series of anecdotes to reinforce the points that he is making, the most amusing of which was where an academic had written a critic of Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss, pointing out all her grammatical errors; he then had another author write an article highlighting the errors he had made. It could have gone on forever…

Overall it was worth reading. It is written from an American linguistic perspective, but he does acknowledge the subtle differences between their language and ours. The English language is an immense too that has layers and layers of complexity and subtlety, and this goes so way to give modern writers a framework.

One to dip into again I think. ( )
  PDCRead | Apr 6, 2020 |
I won't bore anybody with the details. This book is Pinker's love letter to classic writing styles. This means a style that is simple, clear and concise. It only focuses on non-fiction writing where the message being transmitted should leave no room for interpretation other than what the writer intended.

He does a great job at outlining what a lot of writers get wrong and how to modify their texts to make it better using examples & tools like the tree decomposition of a sentence. I specifically loved how he advocates for the natural fluidity of language, going against language purists whom he deems at fault in most cases when they cry out that their noble English is being used improperly.

I imagine this book is more useful for journalists, lawyers, bureaucrats, professors, pretty much anyone who routinely has to write long non-fiction texts. Be that as it may, I found a lot of the advice it gives to be valuable. Reader beware, this book can get pedantic at times. ( )
  parzivalTheVirtual | Mar 22, 2020 |
A readable book of grammar! Having tried and failed with Fowler's Modern English and Strunk & White (both sitting hopeful on my desk at work), Pinker's decision to give the first third of the book to a readable essay tricked me into reading this. In fact, it was only when seeing the rule set in the monster Chapter 6 did I realise this was a book on grammar.
  thenumeraltwo | Feb 11, 2020 |
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I love style manuals. Ever since I was assigned Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style in an introductory psychology course, the writing guide has been among my favorite literary genres. It’s not just that I welcome advice on the lifelong challenge of perfecting the craft of writing. It’s also that credible guidance on writing must itself be well written, and the best of the manuals are paragons of their own advice. William Strunk’s course notes on writing, which his student E. B. White turned into their famous little book, was studded with gems of self-exemplification such as “Write with nouns and verbs,” “Put the emphatic words of a sentence at the end,” and best of all, his prime directive, “Omit needless words.”
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" A short and entertaining book on the modern art of writing well by New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker Why is so much writing so bad, and how can we make it better? Is the English language being corrupted by texting and social media? Do the kids today even care about good writing? Why should any of us care? In The Sense of Style, the bestselling linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker answers these questions and more. Rethinking the usage guide for the 21st century, Pinker doesn't carp about the decline of language or recycle pet peeves from the rulebooks of a century ago. Instead, he applies insights from the sciences of language and mind to the challenge of crafting clear, coherent, and stylish prose. In this short, cheerful, and eminently practical book, Pinker shows how writing depends on imagination, empathy, coherence, grammatical knowhow,and an ability to savor and reverse-engineer the good prose of others. He replaces dogma about usage with reason and evidence, allowing writers and editors to apply the guidelines judiciously, rather than robotically, being mindful of what they are designed to accomplish. Filled with examples of great and gruesome prose, Pinker shows us how the art of writing can be a form of pleasurable mastery and a fascinating intellectual topic in its own right"--"Pinker has a lot of ideas and sometimes controversial opinions about writing and in this entertaining and instructive book he rethinks the usage guide for the 21st century. Don't blame the internet, he says, good writing has always been hard. It requires imagination, taking pleasure in reading, overcoming the difficulty we all have in imagining what it's like to not know something we do know"--

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