• The cover of the book The Sense of Style

    The Sense of Style

    Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style is the best style manual I’ve ever read. This is because Pinker, cognitive scientist and author of The Stuff of Thought, The Language Instinct, and Words and Rules, understands the most vital aspect of grammar—namely, that it is utterly arbitrary. Consequently, Pinker does not merely itemize a bunch of dictums and creeds, a la William Safire, but instead describes the numerous inconsistencies and oddities of English in order to make sense (to use the pun of the title) of why certain phrasings and techniques are more effective than others (and sometimes why it’s nothing more than personal preference). Pinker is a brilliant thinker (as is his wife, the philosopher and novelist Rebecca Newberger Goldstein), and The Sense of Style ought to be on the desk of every journalist, critic, and writer on the planet. It’s that wise and witty and fun and, most importantly, useful. But I even think that non-writers will get a kick out of Pinker’s book, because he’s a gifted stylist himself (as one would hope from an author of such a manual), which makesThe Sense of Style an absolute joy to read.