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How To Write A Sentence: And How to Read One [Hardcover]

Stanley Fish
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 17 2011

“Like a long periodic sentence, this book rumbles along, gathers steam, shifts gears, and packs a wallop.”
 —Roy Blount Jr.
“Language lovers will flock to this homage to great writing.”

Outspoken New York Times columnist Stanley Fish offers an entertaining, erudite analysis of language and rhetoric in this delightful celebration of the written word. Drawing on a wide range of  great writers, from Philip Roth to Antonin Scalia to Jane Austen and beyond, Fish’s How to Write a Sentence is much more than a writing manual—it is a penetrating exploration into the art and craft of sentences.

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How To Write A Sentence: And How to Read One + How to Read a Book
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“Both deeper and more democratic than The Elements of Style.” (Financial Times)

“A guided tour through some of the most beautiful, arresting sentences in the English language.” (Slate)

“[Fish] shares his connoisseurship of the elegant sentence.” (The New Yorker)

“Stanley Fish just might be America’s most famous professor.” (BookPage)

“How to Write a Sentence is a compendium of syntactic gems—light reading for geeks.” (New York magazine)

“How to Write a Sentence isn’t merely a prescriptive guide to the craft of writing but a rich and layered exploration of language as an evolving cultural organism. It belongs not on the shelf of your home library but in your brain’s most deep-seated amphibian sensemaking underbelly.” (Maria Popova, Brain Pickings)

“[Fish’s] approach is genially experiential—a lifelong reader’s engagement whose amatory enthusiasm is an attempt to overthrow Strunk & White’s infamous insistences on grammar by rote.” (New York Observer)

“In this small feast of a book Stanley Fish displays his love of the English sentence. His connoisseurship is broad and deep, his examples are often breathtaking, and his analyses of how the masterpieces achieve their effects are acute and compelling.” (New Republic)

“A sentence is, in John Donne’s words, ‘a little world made cunningly,’ writes Fish. He’ll teach you the art.” (People)

“This splendid little volume describes how the shape of a sentence controls its meaning.” (Boston Globe)

“Like a long periodic sentence, this book rumbles along, gathers steam, shifts gears, and packs a wallop.” (Roy Blount Jr.)

“Language lovers will flock to this homage to great writing.” (Booklist)

“Fish is a personable and insightful guide with wide-ranging erudition and a lack of pretension.” (National Post)

“For both aspiring writer and eager reader, Fish’s insights into sentence construction and care are instructional, even inspirational.” (The Huffington Post)

“If you love language you’ll find something interesting, if not fascinating, in [How to Write a Sentence].” (

“[A] slender but potent volume. Fish, a distinguished law professor and literary theorist, is the anti-Strunk & White.” (The Globe and Mail)

“You’d get your money’s worth from the quotations alone…if you give this book the attention it so clearly deserves, you will be well rewarded.” (Washington Times)

“The fun comes from the examples cited throughout: John Updike, Jane Austen…all are cited throughout.” (Washington Post)

“How to Write a Sentence is the first step on the journey to the Promised Land of good writing.” (Saudi Gazette)

“How to Write a Sentence is a must read for aspiring writers and anyone who wants to deepen their appreciation of literature. If extraordinary sentences are like sports plays, Fish is the Vin Scully of great writing.” (Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein, authors of "They Say/I Say")

“Coming up with all-or-nothing arguments is simply what Fish does; and, in a sense, one of his most important contributions to the study of literature is that temperament…Whether people like Fish or not, though, they tend to find him fascinating.” (The New Yorker)

From the Back Cover

Some appreciate fine art; others appreciate fine wines. Stanley Fish appreciates fine sentences. The New York Times columnist and world-class professor has long been an aficionado of language. Like a seasoned sportscaster, Fish marvels at the adeptness of finely crafted sentences and breaks them down into digestible morsels, giving readers an instant play-by-play.

In this entertaining and erudite gem, Fish offers both sentence craft and sentence pleasure, skills invaluable to any writer (or reader). How to Write a Sentence is both a spirited love letter to the written word and a key to understanding how great writing works; it is a book that will stand the test of time.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Small package; big ideas June 12 2011
There's more to a (good) sentence than meets the eye. Stanley Fish knows quite a bit about it and, using quite few dazzlers of his own, lets us in on some of the finer points.

For starters, sentences aren't REALLY what you might think they are; a dry collection of 'parts', strung together with Leggo connections and 'rules', though the rules and the stringing together are important. This fertile bundle of revelations will get you thinking about things WAY beyond grammar - all the way to how sentence structure colours reality (but, don't worry, it's not essential that you do so).

The book jacket has one of the reviewers describing the author as the "Vin Scully of great writing". That sells Fish short by a country mile or more - sportscasters merely describe WHAT happened; Fish unpacks sentences in a manner that gets at the heart of WHY.

I have a love/hate relationship with many small books. I'm not ambivalent about this one. If you want to get a sense of writing as an organic process, some fascinating perspectives on writing generally and some memorable literary signposts, you won't be disappointed with this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars great read May 12 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Just the sections on additive and subordinating styles made this a worthwhile read. I would recommend this to all. Cheers
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4.0 out of 5 stars recommended to me Dec 21 2013
By Julia H
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Just started reading it but looks fantastic. If you enjoy writing this is for you. Delivery took a long time, just received this book two days ago and ordered Nov 25 now Dec 21, however it is a busy time of year.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The best Aug. 5 2012
By dove
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This guy , Mr Fish, is a master. A wonderful book. I wish he would just keep writing and writing. very solid points and tips on how to improve that you would not get from the now so called famous "shrunk and not-write", pun intended. This is a wonderful book, I wish someone would have given me this many years a go , very sad that that it took so long. Buy it, it is worth it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable June 22 2012
By Mark Nenadov TOP 1000 REVIEWER
This is a really fun read. And it is also immensely helpful to any serious reader or writer. Fish doesn't just outline principles or techniques, but he provides LOTS of examples. This book is stuffed full of excellent examples of great sentences which illustrate what he is saying.

The chapters about first and last sentences are simply delightful. I think I will never again read a book without paying careful attention to the opening and closing line again!

My only complaint is that the last couple pages are far annoyingly sentimental and gushy.
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