McWhorter's theory of language draws explicit parallels with Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct and the biological theories of Richard Dawkins. The Power of Babel absorbs and uses everything from evolutionary theory to Monopoly and soap operas to offer a dynamic story of language which originally "split into thousands of branches that each have evolved in part to maintain what is necessary to communication but in equal part have evolved just because various semantic spaces, perceivable to and processible by human cognition but nonessential to the needs of speech, were 'there' to be evolved into". For McWhorter, languages do not "evolve"; instead they endlessly transform themselves across and into other languages. As a result, "today's languages are Polaroid snapshots of ever-mutating transformations of the first language in six thousand different directions". He controversially concludes that there is no possibility of ever recovering the original first language, but that "of the languages extant today, the ones that most closely approximate the first language are creoles".
The Power of Babel is a clever and engaging book, never dry or boring, but it sometimes overplays the grandness of its claims, which can sometimes seem rather straightforward. --Jerry Brotton
"'A frisky observer of the linguistic scene'" (Keith Waterhouse in the Daily Mail)
"'The breathless tour of linguistic oddities from around the globe has its own empirical delight... McWhorter is a kind of linguistic David Attenborough... The fascination is in his detail, the sheer case-by-case weirdness of languages'" (Guardian)