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The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century Hardcover – Sep 30 2014

4.3 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (Sept. 30 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670025852
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670025855
  • Product Dimensions: 14.8 x 2.9 x 21.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 499 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #19,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


Praise for The Sense of Style

“[The Sense of Style] is more contemporary and comprehensive than “The Elements of Style,” illustrated with comic strips and cartoons and lots of examples of comically bad writing. [Pinker’s] voice is calm, reasonable, benign, and you can easily see why he’s one of Harvard’s most popular lecturers.”
The New York Times
“Pinker's linguistical learning…is considerable. His knowledge of grammar is extensive and runs deep. He also takes a scarcely hidden delight in exploding tradition. He describes his own temperament as "both logical and rebellious." Few things give him more pleasure than popping the buttons off what he takes to be stuffed shirts.”
The Wall Street Journal
“[W]hile The Sense of Style is very much a practical guide to clear and compelling writing, it’s also far more…. In the end, Pinker’s formula for good writing is pretty basic: write clearly, try to follow the rules most of the time—but only the when they make sense. It’s neither rocket science nor brain surgery. But the wit and insight and clarity he brings to that simple formula is what makes this book such a gem.”
“Erudite and witty… With its wealth of helpful information and its accessible approach, The Sense of Style is a worthy addition to even the most overburdened shelf of style manuals.”
Shelf Awareness
“Forget Strunk and White’s rules—cognitive science is a surer basis for clear and cogent writing, according to this iconoclastic guide from bestselling Harvard psycholinguist Pinker... Every writer can profit from—and every writer can enjoy—Pinker’s analysis of the ways in which skillfully chosen words engage the mind.”
Publishers Weekly (starred)
“Yet another how-to book on writing? Indeed, but this is one of the best to come along in many years, a model of intelligent signposting and syntactical comportment…Pinker's vade mecum is a worthy addition to any writer’s library.”
Kirkus Reviews
“In this witty and practical book on the art of writing, Pinker applies insights from the sciences of language and mind to the crafting of clear, elegant prose: #requiredreading.”
Publishers Weekly, PW pick Fall 2014 Announcements
“Who better than a best-selling linguist and cognitive scientist to craft a style guide showing us how to use language more effectively?”
Library Journal
“[A] dense, fascinating analysis of the many ways communication can be stymied by word choice, placement, stress, and the like. [Pinker’s] explanations run rich and deep, complemented by lists, cartoons, charts on diagramming sentences, and more.”
“This book is a graceful and clear smackdown to the notion that English is going to the proverbial dogs. Pinker has written the Strunk & White for a new century while continuing to discourage baseless notions such as that the old slogan should have been ‘Winston tastes good AS a cigarette should.’”
—John McWhorter, author of Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue and The Power of Babel
“Great stuff! Only Steven Pinker could have written this marvelous book, and thank heaven he has. ‘Good writing can flip the way the world is perceived,’ he writes, and The Sense of Style will flip the way you think about good writing. Pinker’s curiosity and delight illuminate every page, and when he says style can make the world a better place, we believe him.”
 —Patricia T. O’Conner, author of Woe Is I and, with Stewart Kellerman, Origins of the Specious

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"Packed with information...Clear, witty, attractively written."
The New York Review of Books

"A display of fiercely intricate intelligence."
The Times (London)

"Engaging and provocative . . . It's good to have a mind as lively and limpid as his bringing the ideas of cognitive science to the public."
—Douglas Hofstadter, Los Angeles Times

"Curious, inventive, fearless, naughty."
The New York Times


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"Sweeping, erudite, sharply argued, and fun to read . . . also highly persuasive."

"Ought to be read by anybody who . . . thinks they already know where they stand on the science wars. . . . It could change their minds."
The Economist

"Pinker is a star, and the world of science is lucky to have him." —Richard Dawkins


About the Author

Steven Pinker is the Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. A two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and the winner of many awards for his research, teaching, and books, he has been named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People in the World Today and Foreign Policy's 100 Global Thinkers.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
To begin with, as a scientist writing is an important part of my career. Not the whole part (like a journalist or editor), but significant enough for me to want to be proficient at the craft. What Pinker has done is write a modern style guide for ALL writers, ranging from fantasy authors to business reporters. Pinker's goal is to look at what should be elements of style, based on usage and grammatical rules. The book starts with a series of chapters that each outline a different aspect of writing (e.g., constructing sentence trees; the curse of specialist knowledge/lingo; classic writing style that tells a story, etc.) before ending with a long chapter that discusses specific suggestions for grammar and word usage (e.g., dangling participles; valid uses of literally). Throughout the book he gives examples of poor writing/errors followed by a correct version. His writing style is lively and the book is liberally sprinkled with comic strips that add humor to his points.

Overall then, it's a pretty darn good book. Unfortunately, being a linguistics expert, Pinker does let the book get bogged down in technical terms. Are you familiar with fused participles (possessives with gerunds)? I'm guessing that most of you, like me, are not. While he does an admirable job of explaining the technical terms of grammar, there's so much of it that it makes it hard to focus on the actual advice. That's the main reason why I'm giving this book four stars instead of five. If you are an editor, English professor, or someone else who truly understands the terminology of English grammar (or if you want to be someone who does) then this is almost certainly a five-star book for you.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book uses a few more words than needed, but has significant value in several areas:
- a close analysis of examples of both older and contemporary writing that illustrate his advice
- an examination of the classical rules of English grammar and usage that Writers Take Note indicates which to break, which to cling to
- a strong emphasis on the two most important points, clarity and communication of meaning.

This is not for the beginner learning English, nor for the average writer of texting and emails. But most professional writers and all who appreciate literature, graceful style and clear communication of ideas can benefit from a close reading of Pinker's prose.
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Format: Hardcover
Well, this is not your granddad’s style guide, not by a long shot. If you’ve read, say, The Elements of Style, you ought to read The Sense of Style to get contemporary insight into what makes for good writing. But how much you like this book, and find it helpful, will depend on where you’re at on your writing journey. If you’re producing decent stuff and have an idea of how language works and, perhaps, like me, some knowledge about linguistics, the book might confirm what you know more than change the way you think about writing. However, if you’re looking for guidance this book is an excellent choice.

I learned three or four extremely valuable things, five or six slightly less valuable things, and entertained and contemplated a host of other suggestions and ideas. I liked the book’s own style (it’s well written), most of the selected examples of exceptional and horrible writing, the cartoons, the counterattack as it were on grammar Nazis, and many other aspects. However, I was nearly bored to tears by Chapter 4, The Web, the Tree, and the String. I find tree charts soporific and don’t think analyzing language in such terms (preposition/noun phrase/noun phrase/verb phrase) is helpful. However, if you prefer psycholinguistics over sociolinguistics, you might revel in this section. I would also have liked to see a more modern or balanced view on the nature of language, i.e. language as a conveyor of ideology and language as power. That Pinker doesn’t conceptualize language this way is unfortunate. It’s helped create a book that is eminently erudite yet somewhat conservative. I suppose that you cannot be all things to all people, but Mr. Pinker is one of the world’s leading public intellectuals. If I were in that position, I wouldn’t be so cautious.

Troy Parfitt is the author of Why China Will Never Rule the World
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I was looking for a modern style guide that would be useful to a group of brilliant young people who, for all their accomplishments, struggle to write well. This was not the book I was looking for, as it turns out. Chapter 4 "The Web, the Tree and the String:Understanding Syntax can help a Writer Avoid Ungrammatical, Convoluted, and Misleading Prose" and Chapter 5, "Arcs of Coherence: How to Ensure that Readers will Grasp the Topic, Get the Point, Keep Track of the Players and see how one Idea Follows from Another" are brilliantly lucid explanations of the linguistic construction of contemporary English. As other reviewers have said, this is a book for people who want to understand how it works, not a how-to book for those in a hurry. That said, the following chapter, Telling Right from Wrong, and the introduction and first three chapters, which place the discussion in the world of internet communication and social media are more to the point for the aspiring writer wanting to look beyond "the rules".

It definitely belongs on my shelf of books about writing and editing, and I will no doubt be adding it to my gift-book list for a few writing obsessed friends.
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