The Sense of Style Book Summary - The Sense of Style Book explained in key points
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The Sense of Style summary

Steven Pinker

The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century

4.2 (101 ratings)
18 mins

Brief summary

The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker is a guide on how to write well using a scientific approach to language. He emphasizes clarity and reasoning, providing useful tips for writers of all levels.

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    The Sense of Style
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    Writers often get a sense of style from reading good writing.

    There are innumerable style guides out there, all designed to help writers master the art of grammar and punctuation. However, most accomplished writers will tell you that they get their skills not from reading style guides but from paying close attention to other works they’ve read and enjoyed.

    Indeed, studying good prose is central to developing solid writing skills. Take, as an example of engaging prose, the opening line of Unweaving the Rainbow, by scientist Richard Dawkins: “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones.”

    Solid prose captures your attention by starting strong and avoiding clichés and banalities. When you want to add a sense of grandeur, take a tip from Dawkins and spice your prose with a bit of poetry.

    But say you’re trying to communicate an abstract idea. One way to make the conceptual more concrete is to use vivid imagery, which can both make an idea clearer and anchor the reader’s imagination. In the same book, Dawkins describes the countless unrealized genetic possibilities as “unborn ghosts” – a potent and evocative image.

    Dawkins is bold from paragraph one, and this makes a strong impression on the reader. And that, ultimately, is the goal of most literature, regardless of genre.

    But you don’t have to limit your list of “good writing” to literary classics. Even the obituary column has lessons to offer.

    New York Times writer Margalit Fox’s work in obituary writing demonstrates clearly that you can capture a person’s legacy in 800 words or less.

    For example, when writing an obituary for Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, Fox wrote of his books: “Roundly praised, intermittently censored, and occasionally eaten.” This playful juxtaposition perfectly sums up the broad impact of his books – both on critics, some of whom denounced his work, and on toddlers, who, being too young to read, see books as just another thing to put in their mouths.

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    What is The Sense of Style about?

    The Sense of Style (2014) offers a refreshing and relevant guide to writing potent, readable texts of all kinds. Instead of extolling the same confusing and sometimes counter-intuitive rules found in traditional style guides, The Sense of Style offers simple tricks and heuristics guaranteed to improve your writing.

    The Sense of Style Review

    The Sense of Style (2014) is an essential read for anyone looking to improve their writing skills and communicate more effectively. Here's why this book stands out:

    • It offers practical tips on how to write clearly and concisely, providing readers with the tools to produce engaging and persuasive content.
    • By exploring the science behind language and grammar, the book goes beyond mere rules and explains why certain writing practices are more effective than others.
    • With its humorous and witty anecdotes, it brings the topic of grammar and style to life, making it an enjoyable and captivating read for all language enthusiasts.

    Best quote from The Sense of Style

    As far as Im concerned, whom is a word that was invented to make everyone sound like a butler. - Calvin Trillin

    —Steven Pinker
    example alt text

    Who should read The Sense of Style?

    • Lovers of the English language
    • Professional or amateur writers
    • People interested in linguistics

    About the Author

    Steven Pinker, who serves as Chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, is an award-winning linguist and cognitive scientist. A professor at Harvard University’s Department of Psychology, he is the author of numerous best-selling books, including Words and Rules and The Language Instinct.

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    The Sense of Style FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Sense of Style?

    The main message of The Sense of Style is to improve our writing by embracing clarity, simplicity, and good grammar.

    How long does it take to read The Sense of Style?

    The reading time for The Sense of Style varies, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Sense of Style a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Sense of Style is a valuable read for anyone who wants to enhance their writing skills. It offers practical advice and insights that make it worth your time.

    Who is the author of The Sense of Style?

    The author of The Sense of Style is Steven Pinker.

    What to read after The Sense of Style?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Sense of Style, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker
    • The Toyota Way by Jeffrey K. Liker
    • The Stuff of Thought by Steven Pinker
    • Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
    • The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker
    • Write Your Book in a Flash by Dan Janal
    • Everybody Writes by Ann Handley
    • How Highly Effective People Speak by Peter Andrei
    • All It Takes Is a Goal by Jon Acuff
    • Do I Make Myself Clear? by Harold Evans