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new book by Steven Pinker – ‘The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century’

September 30, 2014

The Sense of Style

The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker (Viking, 2014)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

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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Book trailer:

See also: Author’s website

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new book – ‘The Risk of Reading: How Literature Helps Us to Understand Ourselves and the World’ by Robert P. Waxler

September 22, 2014

The Risk of Reading
The Risk of Reading: How Literature Helps Us to Understand Ourselves and the World by Robert P. Waxler (Bloomsbury Academic, 2014)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

The Risk of Reading is a defense of the idea that deep and close readings of literature can help us to understand ourselves and the world around us. It explores some of the meaning and implications of modern life through the deep reading of significant books. Waxler argues that we need “fiction” to give our so-called “real life” meaning and that reading narrative fiction remains crucial to the making of a humane and democratic society.

Beginning by exploring the implications of thinking about the importance of story in terms of “real life”, The Risk of Reading focuses on the importance of human language, especially language shaped into narrative, and how that language is central to the human quest for identity. Waxler argues that we are “linguistic beings,” and that reading literary narrative is a significant way to enrich and preserve the traditional sense of human identity and knowledge. This is especially true in the midst of a culture which too often celebrates visual images, spectacle, electronic devices, and celebrity. Reading narrative, in other words, should be considered a counter-cultural activity crucial on the quest to “know thyself.” Reading literature is one of the best opportunities we have today to maintain a coherent human identity and remain self-reflective individuals in a world that seems particularly chaotic and confusing.

Each chapter takes up a well-known work of nineteenth- or twentieth-century literature in order to discuss more fully these issues, exploring, in particular, the notion of life as a journey or quest and the crucial relationship between language and our contingent everyday existence. Of particular interest along the way is the question of what literary narrative can teach us about our mortality and how stories offer opportunities to reflect on the ambivalent and profound meaning of mortal knowledge.

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new book – ‘The Origins of Language: A Slim Guide’ by James R. Hurford

April 21, 2014

Origins of Language

Origins of Language: A Slim Guide by James R. Hurford (Oxford University Press, USA, 2014)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

Origins of Language: A Slim Guide offers a concise and accessible overview of what is known about the evolution of the human capacity for language. Non-human animals communicate in simple ways: they may be able to form simple concepts, to feel some limited empathy for others, to cooperate to some extent, and to engage in mind-reading. Human language, however, is characterized by its ability to efficiently express a wide range of subtle and complex meanings. After the first simple beginnings, human language underwent an explosion of complexity, leading to the very complicated systems of grammar and pronunciation found in modern languages.

Jim Hurford looks at the very varied aspects of this evolution, covering human prehistory; the relation between instinct and learning; biology and culture; trust, altruism, and cooperation; animal thought; human and non-human vocal anatomy; the meanings and forms of the first words; and the growth of complex systems of grammar and pronunciation. Written by an internationally recognized expert in the field, it draws on a number of disciplines besides linguistics, including philosophy, neuroscience, genetics, and animal behaviour, and will appeal to a wide range of readers interested in language origins and evolution.

Google Books preview:

See also: Author’s homepage

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new book – ‘I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey Through the Science of Sound and Language’ by Lydia Denworth

April 17, 2014

I Can Hear You Whisper

I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey through the Science of Sound and Language by Lydia Denworth (Dutton, 2014)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk)

Book description from the publisher:

An investigation into the science of hearing, child language acquisition, neuroplasticity, brain development, and Deaf culture. 

A mother notices her toddler is not learning to talk the way his brothers did… Is something wrong?  Her search for answers is a journey into the mysteries of the human brain.

Lydia Denworth’s third son, Alex, was nearly two when he was identified with significant hearing loss that was likely to get worse. Her sweet boy with the big brown eyes had probably never heard her lullabies.

Denworth knew the importance of enrichment to the developing brain but had never contemplated the opposite: Deprivation.  How would a child’s brain grow outside the world of sound most of us take for granted? How would he communicate?  Would he learn to read and write—weren’t phonics a key to literacy? How long did they have until Alex’s brain changed irrevocably? In her drive to understand the choices—starting with the angry debate between supporters of American Sign Language and the controversial but revolutionary cochlear implant—Denworth soon found that every decision carried weighty scientific, social and even political implications.  As she grappled with the complex collisions between the emerging field of brain plasticity, the possibilities of modern technology, and the changing culture of the Deaf community, she gained a new appreciation of the exquisite relationship between sound, language and learning.  It became clear that Alex’s ears—and indeed everyone’s—were just the beginning.

An acclaimed science journalist as well as a mother, Denworth interviewed the world’s experts on language development, inventors of ground-breaking technology, Deaf leaders, and neuroscientists at the frontiers of research.  She presents insights from studies of everything from at-risk kids in Head Start to noisy cocktail party conversation, from songbirds to signal processing, and from the invention of the telephone to sign language.

Weaving together tales from the centuries-long quest to develop the cochlear implant and simultaneous leaps in neuroscientific knowledge against a tumultuous backdrop of identity politics, I Can Hear You Whisper shows how sound sculpts our children’s brains and the life changing consequences of that delicate process.

Google Books preview:

See also: Author’s website

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new book – ‘Metaphor’ by Denis Donoghue

April 7, 2014

Metaphor

Metaphor by Denis Donoghue (Harvard University Press, 2014)

(amazon.co.uk)

Book description from the publisher:

Denis Donoghue turns his attention to the practice of metaphor and to its lesser cousins, simile, metonym, and synecdoche. Metaphor (“a carrying or bearing across”) supposes that an ordinary word could have been used in a statement but hasn’t been. Instead, something else, something unexpected, appears. The point of a metaphor is to enrich the reader’s experience by bringing different associations to mind. The force of a good metaphor is to give something a different life, a new life. The essential character of metaphor, Donoghue says, is prophetic. Metaphors intend to change the world by changing our sense of it.

At the center of Donoghue’s study is the idea that metaphor permits the greatest freedom in the use of language because it exempts language from the local duties of reference and denotation. Metaphors conspire with the mind in its enjoyment of freedom. Metaphor celebrates imaginative life par excellence, from Donoghue’s musings on Aquinas’ Latin hymns, interspersed with autobiographical reflection, to his agile and perceptive readings of Wallace Stevens.

When Donoghue surveys the history of metaphor and resistance to it, going back to Aristotle and forward to George Lakoff, he is a sly, cogent, and persuasive companion. He also addresses the question of whether or not metaphors can ever truly die. Reflected on every page of Metaphor are the accumulated wisdom of decades of reading and a sheer love of language and life.

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