As someone with an amateur interest in linguistics, I've always felt that Lakoff and Johnson's Metaphors We Live by [METAPHORS WE LIVE BY -OS] is a book that I should have read. I bought it about two years ago, but despite repeated efforts every 3 months or so, I just cannot make it through more than 30 pages before giving up. I don't question its importance, but it's written in a style that I find impenetrable - an odd mixture of material that veers from blindingly obvious to highly technical, with little apparent regard for the reader
So I was happy to stumble across this book by James Geary, even happier as I was reading it. I no longer feel obliged to punish myself by re-trying Lakoff and Johnson every three months. Geary covers much of the same ground, with a little less emphasis on linguistics and a sharper focus on the role of metaphor in cognition and human behavior. Geary's coverage of relevant brain research is also more up to date, reflecting his book's more recent publication date. But its real advantages are the accessible style and superior organization. Key concepts are introduced and identified as such. The exposition proceeds in a logical, orderly fashion. The examples are interesting, persuasive, insightful, and actually help the reader better understand the concepts being discussed. Geary is organized and engaging; he writes with fluidity, humor, and grace. Occasionally his enthusiasm gets the better of him, but for the most part he is careful not to overstate his case. He never condescends to the reader, and his enthusiasm is infectious. As a result, he achieves an authoritative tone, something that eluded Lakoff, a far less disciplined writer, despite his being the originator of many of the ideas discussed.
But this should review should focus on the virtues of "I is an Other", not the deficiencies of competing books. A list of the main chapter headings gives a fair idea of its scope (I realize that including it here is lazy, but I hope it's informative)-
Foreword : Why I is an Other
Metaphor and Thought : All Shook Up
Metaphor and Etymology : Language is Fossil Poetry
Metaphor and Money : How High Can a Dead Cat Bounce?
Metaphor and the Mind : Imagining an Apple in Someone's Eye
Metaphor and Advertising : Imaginary Gardens with Real Toads
Metaphor and the Brain : Bright Sneezes and Loud Sunlight
Metaphor and the Body : Anger is a Heated Fluid in a Container
Metaphor and Politics : Freedom Fries and Liberty Cabbage
Metaphor and Pleasure : Experience is a Comb that Nature Gives to Bald Men
Metaphor and Children : How Should One Refer to the Sky?
Metaphor and Science : The Earth is Like a Rice Pudding
Metaphor and Parables and Proverbs : Mighty Darn good Lies
Metaphor and Innovation : Make it Strange
Metaphor and Psychology : A Little Splash of Color from my Mother
Backword : The Logic of Metaphor
The gist of Geary's message is that metaphor is ubiquitous and fundamental, not just as an intrinsic component of language, it also plays a basic role in cognition and human behavior. How we perceive our world, how we think, and how we act are all hugely influenced by metaphors. Sometimes this influence is obvious, but it can also happen well below the radar of our consciousness. Humans are highly suggestible, capable of being "primed" to react in certain ways, whether it's through framing by subtle nuances of language, or by the less subtle manipulation of metaphor engaged in by politicians, marketers, or anyone else trying to elicit a particular emotional response. Geary traces the role of metaphor across all of the domains indicated in the chapter headings given above, invoking a wealth of well-chosen examples that are interesting and thought-provoking. Their cumulative force is entirely persuasive.
If you think metaphor is something just for poets, think again. In normal conversation, we utter one metaphor for every 10-25 words, which corresponds to about six metaphors a minute. Still not convinced? Here's one final example. Have you ever wondered about the language used to describe the behavior of the stock market? When things are trending upward, the kind of metaphor used will generally attribute agency to the market - "The NASDAQ climbed 20 points" - as if of its own volition. This description is more likely to elicit optimism in investors, because climbing is an activity resulting from an internal drive that is presumably likely to continue in the future. Being told, however, that Dow "plummeted" suggests that prices are non-living, non-volitional entities, whose movements are controlled by external forces (an example of what is called an 'object metaphor'). Research shows that the use of agent metaphors to describe stock movements causes people to be more optimistic about future market behavior and invest accordingly; the same information presented using object metaphors leads to more pessimistic investment responses.
METAPHORS MATTER! This is an exceptionally well written, fascinating book on an important topic - I give it my highest recommendation.