“Charming and erudite," from the author of Rationality and Enlightenment Now, "The wit and insight and clarity he brings . . . is what makes this book such a gem.” —Time.com
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—and why should we care? From the author of The Better Angels of Our Nature and Enlightenment Now.
In this entertaining and eminently practical book, the cognitive scientist, dictionary consultant, and New York Times–bestselling author Steven Pinker rethinks the usage guide for the twenty-first century. Using examples of great and gruesome modern prose while avoiding the scolding tone and Spartan tastes of the classic manuals, he shows how the art of writing can be a form of pleasurable mastery and a fascinating intellectual topic in its own right. The Sense of Style is for writers of all kinds, and for readers who are interested in letters and literature and are curious about the ways in which the sciences of mind can illuminate how language works at its best.
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 (The Language Instinct). Pinker deploys history, logic, and his own deep understanding of language to debunk many prescriptivist grammatical strictures: go ahead and split that infinitive, he declares, start a sentence with a conjunction, and use passive constructions when they improve a sentence's legibility. (He does give vent to a few of his own prescriptivist peeves, such as the use "literally" to mean "figuratively"). More broadly, he explains how the brain processes language into principles of sound writing, recommending a "classic prose style" that concretely directs the reader's gaze at the world, deploring the "curse of knowledge" that leads academics to believe that readers understand their jargon, and mounting a spot-on critique of incoherent argumentation in a passage by military historian John Keegan. Pinker's linguistic theory can be heavy going at times, but his prose is usually a model of clarity, lightly-worn erudition, and keen insight. Every writer can profit from and every reader can enjoy Pinker's analysis of the ways in which skillfully chosen words engage the mind.