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As a scientist I spend much of my time writing scholarly articles. When Pinker, who I admire for his scientific contribution and perhaps even more for his writing skills, wrote this book about writing I was naturally interested. The book’s focus is on the classical writing style which is probably best characterized as a sort of writing philosophy. According to this philosophy your job as an author is to convey something you know to the reader. To do so you must put yourself in the boots of your reader. If you try to explain something in a language (or technical jargon) that your reader does not understand then you will fail. Indeed a good chunk of the book is devoted to the curse of knowledge; you erroneously assume that your reader knows what you know. Pinker gives concrete advice on how to avoid this.
Pinker, I think, is a relatively liberal writer. The focus is, and should be, on what makes your reader understand; not on obsessively following every rule in the rule books. In other words, if you are a language purist who thinks that starting a sentence with “And” is a capital crime, then this book will cause you much suffering.
Having said that, Pinker do devote the last chapter to rules that ought not to be violated unless you really know what you are doing. For instance I learned that I was wrong to use commas when there is just a pause in the spoken sentence. I also learned that: serial commas are a good thing; how to use semicolons; as well as the proper use of many improperly used.
It is a bit ironic that my one problem with the book was that there was too much jargon in it which sometimes made it difficult for me to understand. To me, as a native Swede, it seemed as if Pinker sometimes feel into the knowledge trap that he instructs us to avoid. Maybe it is just me who did not listen carefully on my English lessons, but I would occasionally have liked more information about basic grammar concepts.
Still, all in all this was a worthwhile read which I am sure will help me develop my writing
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
Steven Pinker brings delight to an amazing breadth of intellectual disciplines. So when I saw he had focused on writing, I had high expectations. They were met.
It isn't your father's writing handbook. (My mother was an English Professor so I have seen quite a few.} Nor is it a how-to technical manual like the Hargrave Handbook.
Instead (like other Pinker books) this works from deep principles, to solve the daunting problems of written communication.
I also bought the book, so I could easily refer back to areas that I want to apply better in my own writing.
6 of 7 people found this review helpful