The Kingdom of Speech

  • by Tom Wolfe
  • Narrated by Robert Petkoff
  • 4 hrs and 38 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

The maestro storyteller and reporter provocatively argues that what we think we know about speech and human evolution is wrong.
Tom Wolfe, whose legend began in journalism, takes us on an eye-opening journey that is sure to arouse widespread debate. The Kingdom of Speech is a captivating, paradigm-shifting argument that speech - not evolution - is responsible for humanity's complex societies and achievements.
From Alfred Russel Wallace, the Englishman who beat Darwin to the theory of natural selection but later renounced it, through the controversial work of modern-day anthropologist Daniel Everett, who defies the current wisdom that language is hardwired in humans, Wolfe examines the solemn, long-faced, laugh-out-loud zigzags of Darwinism, old and neo, and finds it irrelevant here in the Kingdom of Speech.

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What the Critics Say

"In this mettlesome, slyly funny takedown, Wolfe spotlights two key scientific rivalries, each pitting a scrappy outsider against the academy.... Wolfe's pithy and stirring play-by-play coverage of compelling lives and demanding science transforms our perception of speech.... As always, white-suited Wolfe will be all over the media...stirring things up and sending readers to the shelves." (Donna Seaman, Booklist)
"A fresh look at an old controversy, as a master provocateur suggests that human language renders the theory of evolution more like a fable than scientific fact.... Wolfe throws a Molotov cocktail at conventional wisdom in a book that won't settle any argument but is sure to start some." (Kirkus Reviews)
"Narrator Robert Petkoff's bright and energetic delivery reflects the author's well-known penetrating intelligence and curiosity." (AudioFile)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Both witty and deep; and brilliantly narrated too.

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Tom Wolfe has always been a felicitous and clever writer. Here he takes on the serious topic of language and speech as the unique characteristic of humans. Tracing the evolutionary perspective, with due respect to both Wallace and Darwin, and then exploring both the genius and the arrogance of Chomsky, Wolfe explores much more than language.

Class status, scientific controversy and battles between and among academics, the tension between those who are called "fly catchers" working in the field and the "proper academics" sitting in front of their computers in air conditioned offices, and the extent to which trends in science that spill over into culture are quasi-religious wars, are the infrastructure of this wonderful book.

Sitting in the Disney Hall listening to a Beethoven symphony I marveled at the greatness of Western Civilization. Every aspect of the evening was a triumph of what the West had produced, from the automobile that I drove, to the freeway and safe streets, to the beauty of the building, to the splendid acoustics in the auditorium, to the assembly of musicians, to the composition of the symphony itself, and to my safe return home after the concert, all was the result of our civilization. And none of that would have been possible but for the acquisition of language many thousands of years ago.

Wolfe makes the central place of language the dividing line that separates us from the rest of the world of living creatures, and does so with a combination of story, humor, humility, and confidence.

And Robert Petkoff narrates this splendid book with just the right cadence, just the perfect expression, and just the right tone to bring out its best. Thank you to the author and thank you to the narrator.

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- smarmer

Same Great Tom, Minor Qualms but still great

What made the experience of listening to The Kingdom of Speech the most enjoyable?

Tom's consistently biting witty sarcasm, backed by generally exhaustive research - even when taking on such lofty topics (when doesn't he) Is here as always has been the case (in the growing number of his works I have absorbed since finding the Painted Word excellent a year or so ago)....

His depth and angle of attack alone always are a marvel to me, though I preferred for example (of his 'new journalism' rather than novel works) Hooking Up - my favorite at this point i think....

I find always that - as with someone like Christopher Hitchens - even though I often don't agree with Wolfe's stance or thesis - though it always adds something of a brilliant new perspective I am fascinated with looking at via new lens, the mastery of presentation and his awesome craftsmanship within his own (as with Hitch's) very personally compelling and personal voice and milieu. A style and method unique and thrilling in own ways..... too often lacking.


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these guys are artists and characters who - refreshingly in what has become a sniffled atmosphere of polite PC norms - where saying what one thinks is a mine field (where i certainly agree and have for ages with Noam Chomsky about the way control is deployed through a now fairly clearly documented history of the PR industry, mass media and now less transparently online with too few people ever noticing....).

What is clear to most tough is what a brutal crime it is to make others feel discomfort.... i suppose this is what i find poignant and worthy of big respect for both the mentioned writers above but as this is a review of Wolfe's late and most recent work here - certainly specific to him and consistent even in his early writings I have to this point gotten to....

whereas a Dawkins for example I think does mass disservice as a masthead for science (in contrasting same opinions and stance with hitch, as convenient example)- he is a put off for lacking all the kind of qualities and tact, approach, etc. that a Tom Wolfe, a Hitchens, a Hunter Thomson can and has.... so miserable, lacking in character or seeming human qualities.....

--- I profoundly agree with Wolfe's point that speech (language - maybe specifically more written language.... though the thrust of his point is very very solid).... and yet i find one core point he hammers on - that Chomsky et all admit to not really knowing what language is.....

this is NOT such a big issue IMHO. Science for the most part - at least of the most serious sort - (look at most physics) doesn't tend to reveal much on the 'what' of anything.... it can - as a method and philosophy - help us dramatically figure out how things seem to 'work' (from a human pov) and through experiment let us manipulate and achieve seemingly fantastical things (go to moon) yet in the process - even if we figure out basic notions like 'here are these elements, here are these atoms, we can use this idea of them - a kind of mental jig - as particles or waves or that gravity pulls us towards mass etc.... but that doesn't say much of anything about WHAT any of it is. To say its a mineral is just a word..... it slots it into this system we've created, a model, but its always alll model.....

As Tom asserts as to the vitality of language in what makes us uniquely human- and surely (likely) a necessary trait to be able to consider - through whatever consciousness is - that WHAT in terms of these things is something one cannot ever really (though of course hotly debated now more than ever) though to expect linguistics as a scientific area of study to get at the what of language - its not really surprising at all that it doesn't shed any light on that answer.

This topic cluster has I guess struck a minor nerve as it surrounds some topics I have been finding myself at odds with common wisdom of the day very often - and wrestling with myself in many ways.

Ultimately I think (due to his points so often raised about Nietzsche and his prognosis for what has already occurred in 20th century and where we find ourselves - not so different from much Baudrillard thinking .... or frankly Aleister Crowley's! ) .... that I generally share Tom's critiques - though as I have gotten to know his ways and approach more and more - I think something I especially like about him (and I think is missing from much critique) is that though biting he doesn't absolutely separate himself from what he is brilliantly shreding to whatever intensity.... in fact I sense he knows - in the theatrical and not to be taken ever etirely seriously - human nature and folly... in some way he is celebrating whatever he is simulataneously duelling skillfully with such wit and vivacity.

Thrilled to have come across this release from a talent I am so happy to have come across (and yet more material to devour in his back catalog!)

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- olig

Book Details

  • Release Date: 08-30-2016
  • Publisher: Hachette Audio