A guide to writing English informed by recent scholarship (linguistics, cognative science, and such like).

Review of 'The Sense of Style' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

At first, I confess, I wasn’t thrilled by it. It seemed ok, while a bit posh. But that, I think, happened, because I was not familiar with Pinker’s style. And truth is that his is a peculiar one: thoroughly backed by solid research, insightful examples and timely delivery.

In a guide about style for the 21st century thinker, Pinker shines as someone who not only has a masterful theoretical grasp of the subject at hand, but who is also a master of the craft itself. And thanks to this, the book is as easy to read as it is to understand.

The content, however, goes beyond what you would expect from such a guide. Pinker is not merely focused on the plethora of dos and donts of the writing craft, but on making you understand why this or that is preferable to some other alternative. And by doing so, you get a better sense why some conventions are to be followed while others discarded. This makes the book extremely pedagogical, adding to its usefulness.

Its 6 chapters cover a lot of ground: from what makes some piece of writing good writing to the usefulness of the classic style of prose compared with others that are less clear and less useful for intellectual purposes; from the unfortunate but inescapable trappings of knowing too much while explaining too little to the understanding of the fundamental structure of language itself; from how to strive and acheive the overall coherence required required to make the proper sense you aim at to discussing what make this or that commonly accepted rule of writing right or wrong (and you’re wrong most of the time if you think there is a right for each particular case).

Thanks to Pinker’s expertise in linguistics, his explanations as well as his understandings of the many complicated features of the English language (and languages in general) allow him to cut right through the many levels of bullshit that many think constitute a clear and precise use of language while showing you exactly how to achieve precisely that. Thanks to his warnings and by showing you what works and what doesn’t, writing may not become easy, but at least a bit less complicated.

As I’m not familiar enough either with the English language itself (for it is not my mother tongue) or with the field of linguistics, I’m not competent enough to find compromising faults on this manual. What I can do though is to share the pleasure I had in reading it, while recommending it to anyone who, like me, wants to improve her/his writing skills by [finally]? understanding why some choices are better than others. If this topic is your cup of tea, I’ll add: drink it—you won’t regret it.