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The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century [Englisch] [Gebundene Ausgabe]

Steven Pinker

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30. September 2014
A short and entertaining book on the modern art of writing well by New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker

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? Why should any of us care?

In The Sense of Style, the bestselling linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker answers these questions and more. Rethinking the usage guide for the twenty-first century, Pinker doesn’t carp about the decline of language or recycle pet peeves from the rulebooks of a century ago. Instead, he applies insights from the sciences of language and mind to the challenge of crafting clear, coherent, and stylish prose.

In this short, cheerful, and eminently practical book, Pinker shows how writing depends on imagination, empathy, coherence, grammatical knowhow, and an ability to savor and reverse engineer the good prose of others. He replaces dogma about usage with reason and evidence, allowing writers and editors to apply the guidelines judiciously, rather than robotically, being mindful of what they are designed to accomplish.

Filled with examples of great and gruesome prose, Pinker shows us how the art of writing can be a form of pleasurable mastery and a fascinating intellectual topic in its own right.

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The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century + The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language (P.S.)
Preis für beide: EUR 29,80

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Praise for The Sense of Style

“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

Praise for The Better Angels of Our Nature

"A supremely important book...a masterly achievement." —The New York Times Book Review

"Masterly." —The Wall Street Journal

"One of the most important books I've read--not just this year, but ever." —Bill Gates

Praise for The Stuff of Thought

"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

Praise for The Blank Slate
"Sweeping, erudite, sharply argued, and fun to read . . . also highly persuasive." —Time

"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


Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

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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4.0 von 5 Sternen A style manual for the 21st century 30. September 2014
Von Genevieve DeGuzman - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition
Heads-up, editors. In The Sense of Style, author Steven Pinker challenges every authoritarian grammarian and language purist who has held sway over the rules of the English language with their dogmatic style books.

A psycholinguist by profession, Pinker is a scholar of the science of language. So it's no surprise that The Sense of Style feels like a modern alternative to the classic but tired guides of Strunk and White and others. In my days as an English undergrad, Strunk and White's The Elements of Style was the biblical tome of writing. But Pinker arrives with this iconoclastic book to show us that sometimes rules can be tone-deaf to what really makes for transparent and compelling prose.

Purists often forget that the English language is rife with idiosyncrasies that can't be fit so neatly into rule boxes. You'll see the best kind of rule-breaking among poets and novelists, who often have the better "ear" and feel for language than your clumsy grammarian. Language is chiefly a medium for expression, not just an embodiment of rules. Literature's most gifted writers have often 'broken' the rules using constructions that might have been edited into sterility by heavy-handed editors. The expressive possibilities of language often rely on the rules being bent.

As you can see, this book isn't your typical manual on grammar and usage. You won't find a list of dos and don'ts in an effort to indoctrinate. Pinker shows us instead that unthinking adherence to manuals actually makes for bad, clunky writing. For example, one of the signature rules in writing is to avoid using the passive voice at all costs. But Pinker argues that if you change every passive sentence into an active one, you're not necessarily improving the prose. The main problem is that the passive construction exists for a purpose--but most people don't know when to use it effectively. Sure, both active and passive constructions convey the same information but they have cognitive differences because of the order of information given. Pinker's rule of thumb: Passive is the preferred construction when the affected entity (the item that receives the action) is the topic of the preceding discussion or when the agent of action is irrelevant to the discussion. In other words, good writing is about having a "sense," about letting your communication goals dictate the writing.

This book isn't for beginners. Pinker is clear in the Introduction about this and writes that this book is for experienced writers. You will benefit the most from this book if you are a relatively experienced writer and reader, and are familiar with the basic rules of language and grammar. You have to know the rules in order to bend them with style and with compelling reason, to know when to take advantage of loopholes and irregularities.

The "sense" in The Sense of Style is knowing how a masterful writer moves fluidly between logical rules and combinations, and knows those idiomatic usages and irregularities. The book is packed with examples and is wonderfully readable, which surprised me. Pinker is great at reverse engineering passages and illuminating what writers have done well (or not done well) to convey their ideas. Take lots of notes!

For those who still crave the utility of a reference manual, the later chapters in the book include lists of words and rules that can be bent and those that can't (in Pinker's opinion). Or, for a bite-size taste of the grammar rules Pinker explores in this book, check out this article ( by Pinker in The Guardian.

Overall, a great, informative read. I'll be keeping this on my reference shelf.

[Disclaimer: I received an ARC copy of this book from the publisher through the Goodreads First Reads Program in exchange for an honest review.]
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3.0 von 5 Sternen Not what I had hoped 6. Oktober 2014
Von Charles Grayson - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
I like Steven Pinker a lot and his "Better Angels of our Nature" was one of the best books I've ever read. It is a tribute to his writing ability that that book kept me hooked until the very end. So I awaited this book eagerly and got it on the first day it was available. To my great disappointment, I found it hard to finish.

The first problem is organization...the book really doesn't lend itself to the purpose of being a style guide, because you can't thumb through it to find a relevant topic. It's mainly a book of dense prose. There are no headings, no bullets, no lists, and precious little white space.

The second problem is that the book is crammed with grammar jargon that's never defined, except maybe in the glossary at the back. Unless his goal was to exclude all non-grammar nerds, he seems to be afflicted with what he calls the "curse of knowledge", assuming that everyone else starts off with the same knowledge base that he possesses.

The third problem is similar to the one above. In one chapter he puts a lot of time into converting sentences into syntax trees. I found that following along with this analysis a bit tedious with no real payoff for the effort. I think it would have been more intuitive to simply have sentences displayed with words and phrases circled, along with arrows showing the relationships to other parts of the sentence.

The fourth and final problem is that he had little new to say on most of the topics he brought up. I had hoped that his background as a cognitive scientist would provide me with insights that mere grammarians could not provide, but such insights were few.

Had I been editor, I would have encouraged him to make the chapter "Arcs of coherence" become the entire book, minus the syntax trees. While grammar nitpicks can be amusing to talk about, in the end what most determines the effectiveness of writing is how coherently the ideas are expressed and connected with other ideas. With Pinker's background, perhaps he could have made an important contribution in this area, rather than covering ground that others have trod before him.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen With a Sense of Style 1. Oktober 2014
Von C.R. Hurst - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
Steven Pinker, renowned linguist and cognitive scientist, has written a book that is sure to disturb grammar mavens and delight thoughtful writers. In The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century Pinker advocates a common sense approach to the art of writing based on his years as a reader, writer, and professor, an approach that he refers to as the classic style. This style strives to communicate clearly and coherently and to establish a conversation between the writer and reader. Pinker also admonishes those who act as language police without truly understanding the way the English language works or the way the human mind processes language. These self-appointed guardians of language purity instead repeat what they learned (and probably misunderstood) in high school English class, without even bothering to consult a dictionary for current definitions and conventional usage. Nevertheless Pinker does not advocate a no-rules approach. In fact he believes that understanding the grammatical underpinnings of our language is essential to the development of good style.

Perhaps what impressed me the most about The Sense of Style is that the author never dumbs down his explanations or his examples. In fact, he trusts that his reader is intelligent enough to understand some rather technical grammatical jargon. For example, in one chapter Pinker examines the subtle but important differences between a modifier, an adjective, and a determiner based on their function in a sentence, rather than on their category in traditional grammar. And surprisingly he makes such in-depth examination not only clear but also relevant to those readers, like me, who dislike grammar but love writing.

I also appreciated his many examples of both thoughtful and thoughtless style gleaned from sources as divergent as obituaries and bestsellers, and his insightful and often humorous commentary concerning those examples. Take, for instance, the stern warning about the "Curse of Knowledge" which causes smart people to write incomprehensible prose: "Hey, I am talking to you. Your readers know a lot less about your subject than you think they do, and unless you keep track of what you know that they don't, you are guaranteed to confuse them."

Clearly The Sense of Style is not written for the novice writer; however, it is a wonderful resource for the journeyman who not only wants to write clearly and correctly but also with a sense of style. It will surely resonate with those who still believe in the power of language.
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4.0 von 5 Sternen English Majors and Writers Will Enjoy 6. Oktober 2014
Von Book Shark - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker

The Sense of Style is a scholarly and witty book on the art of writing well. Bestselling author, linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker provides readers with a new writing-guide for the twenty-first century. He breaks down grammar rules and challenges purists on the best use of language. This challenging 368-page book includes the following six chapters: 1. Good Writing, 2. A Window onto the World, 3. The Curse of Knowledge, 4. The Web, the Tree, and the String, 5. Arcs of Coherence, and 6. Telling Right from Wrong.

1. Dr. Pinker consistently produces quality work.
2. A "very" unique topic, the art of writing well from a scientific perspective. You don't have to read the book to get my joke.
3. Good use of wit that adds panache to a book about writing style.
4. Good advice throughout the book. "By replacing dogma about usage with reason and evidence, I hope not just to avoid giving ham-fisted advice but to make the advice that I do give easier to remember than a list of dos and don'ts."
5. Explains the three main reasons why style matters.
6. Provides insights on how to become a good writer. "Writers acquire their technique by spotting, savoring, and reverse-engineering examples of good prose."
7. Supports good style over writing dogma. "The key to good style, far more than obeying any list of commandments, is to have a clear conception of the make-believe world in which you're pretending to communicate." "The purpose of writing is presentation, and its motive is disinterested truth. It succeeds when it aligns language with the truth, the proof of success being clarity and simplicity."
8. The characteristics of classic style. "A writer of classic prose must simulate two experiences: showing the reader something in the world, and engaging her in conversation."
9. Provides many examples of what constitutes poor prose: "Metadiscourse, signposting, hedging, apologizing, professional narcissism, clichés, mixed metaphors, metaconcepts, zombie nouns, and unnecessary passives."
10. Hanlon's Razor, "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." Excellent explanation on how the curse of knowledge may lead to poor prose. "The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation I know of why good people write bad prose."
11. Ways on how to improve your prose. "Good prose is never written by a committee." Think about that.
12. The importance of understanding syntax. "Finally, an awareness of syntax can help you avoid ambiguous, confusing, and convoluted sentences. All of this awareness depends on a basic grasp of what grammatical categories are, how they differ from functions and meanings, and how they fit into trees."
13. Interesting insights on how our minds work and how that knowledge benefits good writing. "English syntax demands subject before object. Human memory demands light before heavy. Human comprehension demands topic before comment and given before new."
14. How to construct coherent passages longer than a sentence. "In fact, it's the hunger for coherence that drives the entire process of understanding language."
15. Discusses principles of composition. "An important principle in composition is that the amount of verbiage one devotes to a point should not be too far out of line with how central it is to the argument. "
16. Discusses good use of grammar, word choice, and punctuation. Starts off by debunking the myth that all traditional rules must be followed for dogma's sake. "That's right: when it comes to correct English, there's no one in charge; the lunatics are running the asylum. The editors of a dictionary read a lot, keeping their eyes open for new words and senses that are used by many writers in many contexts, and the editors add or change the definitions accordingly. Purists are often offended when they learn that this is how dictionaries are written."
17. Presents a list of common usage issues. "These are the ones that repeatedly turn up in style guides, pet-peeve lists, newspaper language columns, irate letters to the editor, and inventories of common errors in student papers." Great stuff.
18. Includes notes, glossary and a formal bibliography.

1. This book is intended for writers, not for laypersons. You must possess good command of the English language and grammar in order for this book to make sense. The grammar jargon will overwhelm the average reader.
2. The book's formatting leads to confusion. For a book predicated on clarity, many times I was lost.
3. The writing may come across as pretentious.
4. I wanted more neuroscience.

In summary, there is a direct correlation between the amount of stars this book deserves and your expertise on the subject. English majors and writers will give this book either four or five stars. On the other hand, laypersons will struggle with it to say the least. I'm giving this book four stars because even though my engineering brethren balks at reading such a book the avid reader in me recognizes its value. Writers will enjoy this book while the rest will struggle with it.

Further recommendations: "The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition" by William Strunk Junior, "On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction" by William Zinsser, "A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Seventh Edition: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing)" by Kate L. Turabian, "The Only Grammar Book You'll Ever Need: A One-Stop Source for Every Writing Assignment" by Susan Thurman and Larry Shea, "Book Writing Mistakes (How To Avoid The Top 12 Mistakes New Business Book Authors Make)" by Jim Edwards, "How to Write Great Blog Posts that Engage Readers (Better Blog Booklets Book 1)" by Steve Scott, "English Grammar For Dummies" by Geraldine Woods, and "Grammar Girl's Punctuation 911: Your Guide to Writing it Right (Quick & Dirty Tips)" by Mignon Fogarty.
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4.0 von 5 Sternen Good guide to writing 2. Oktober 2014
Von Edward Durney - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
Steven Pinker writes well. His book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined could have been a slog, since the book is long, the thinking in it fairly complex, and the scope of it vast. But for me, it was not a slog. Indeed, the book caught and kept my attention for many hours on end. Mainly, I think, due to the nature of Steven Pinker's writing. His sense of style.

From this book The Sense of Style, it seems clear that Steven Pinker's strong writing -- certainly not a skill of most people at the pinnacle of academia that he sits at -- did not just come naturally and without effort. He thinks about writing, and he studies writing. He reads, and picks out examples (both good and bad) from what he reads to analyze and study.

And Steven Pinker writes, practicing what he learns. Indeed, here he uses the very skills he writes about in his writing. The Sense of Style is a book that flows, in its thinking and in its prose. This book is not concise and to the point, like Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. Steven Pinker failed to omit many needless words. Even so, it's hard to find fault with his writing in this book.

Having praised his writing style, let me focus on some faults with his thinking. I agree with him that writers should read a lot. Read more, in fact, than write. That's how to become a better writer.

But I disagree with his advice to "reverse engineer" good writing to analyze it and try to figure out why it's good. Reverse engineering might work for engineering, and science, but I don't think it works for art, or writing.

Most of the time, analyzing art is a fruitless exercise, since we can't really tell why we really like something. So when we try to analyze why we like a picture, or a poem, or a meal, or a sunset, or a song, that doesn't help. It hurts. We make up reasons for why we like something, and those reasons are usually wrong. That weakens our enjoyment of it. Feelings are rarely rational. When we try to analyze them, we kill them. Like dissecting a poem.

Also, tastes differ. Steven Pinker chooses as one example of great writing some passages written by his wife, Rebecca Goldstein. While I didn't think her writing passages were bad, neither did I think them very good either. Steven Pinker's reverse engineering of her writing did nothing to change my mind. His analysis is subjective, not objective. I just did not see the same things in her writing that he did.

(I must say too that I don't think it was a good idea of Steven Pinker to use his own wife's writing as an example of great writing. Pick someone you can be more objective about. There are plenty of great writers who are dead. Better, I think, to use them.)

Instead of reverse engineering a good writing style, I think you should instead try to copy it. Pablo Picasso is said to have said that good artists borrow, and great artists steal. No such words appear in the written record during his lifetime, so that is probably a misattribution. But the thought makes a lot of sense. Steve Jobs admitted that Apple shamelessly steals good ideas. So should we.

I don't mean steal people's words -- that's plagiarism, a no-no for everyone. But steal their style. If you like the way someone writes, try to copy that style. At least, copy other people's style as you develop your own. When you start to write something, find a good example of similar writing and have it at hand as you try to produce something just as good yourself. That will help you improve more than being the critic that analysis requires you be. We improve the most by doing things ourselves, not by analyzing others.

On the plus side, I like the way Steven Pinker stays away from rigid rules (for the most part -- he does spend a lot of time on fine points of grammar and usage that seemed too fine to me). Grammar police annoy me. Some people moan when writers use "literally" as an intensifier, for example. But some of the best writers -- Charles Dickens and Mark Twain -- did exactly that. Rules don't help. Good sense does. And following Steven Pinker's good sense and solid thinking in The Sense of Style will help us develop a sense of style that will make our writing better than any rules could.
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