Book review: ‘The Sense of Style’ by Steven Pinker

The thinking person's guide to writing in the 21st century.

The Sense of Style

I enjoyed this book far more than I thought I was going to.

As a cognitive scientist with a professional interest in language, Steven Pinker should know what he’s talking about when it comes to stringing grammatically correct, easy-to-understand sentences together. The Sense of Style contains a lot of food for thought about what makes stylish writing. I was particularly taken by the early chapters, in which he refers to the classic style: a way of writing which helps writers avoid getting bogged down in their own words by assuming an air of authority, and by assuming that the reader is both intelligent and not hell-bent on catching the writer out.

Did you see what I did, there? I finished a sentence with a preposition. Pinker would be fine with that. He also goes to great lengths to explain why certain other grammatical ‘rules’ make no sense at all, and how, by having even a rudimentary understanding of noun phrases, verb phrases, and so forth, many punctuation dilemmas are easily resolved.

A thought-provoking and useful book.

Richard Carter is a writer and photo­grapher living in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. WebsiteFacebookTwitterNewsletter

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