This is a long book, and I found myself skipping forwards through sections as it does become quite technical in parts - more so than I expected.
having said that, it is full of information, interesting anecdotes and case studies, but some of it is difficult to listen to (as opposed to read) given how complex the detail in parts
This is a reissue of a classic book from 1994. Arthur's reading is well paced with a calm manor allowing the listener to follow some intense sentence diagrams without the expected PTSD flashbacks from Mrs. Thomas' 8th grade English class. It is an enjoyable book, an interesting subject, precisely written, read well.
My interests run to psychology, popular science, history, world literature, and occasionally something fun like Jasper Fforde. It seems like the only free time I have for reading these days is when I'm in the car so I am extremely grateful for audio books. I started off reading just the contemporary stuff that I was determined not to clutter up my already stuffed bookcases with. And now audio is probably 90% of my "reading" matter.
This book came out in 1994 and it says a lot about how fast this field is growing that certain parts already feel a little outdated. Fortunately, there is a 2007 update at the end of the book that comments on and catches up with some of the latest developments. That was one of the best parts for me, and I didn't have a clue it would be included.
Pinker is at his best relating about the exciting research going on in neurolinguistics. He is less entertaining when he tries to argue his support for a particular ideological position. I don't have an issue with the idea that a 'language instinct' may exist, but I was never quite clear what he meant by the term 'instinct.' Regardless, as an introduction to all the key topics of interest in his field, this is a great book.
That is probably a key point. Some books are very narrowly focused and organized to support a key thesis. This is more of a survey-of-the-landscape type book. I suspect Pinker got attached to his title and decided everything had to tie back to that in some way. So the book will meander around from one fascinating topic to the next and suddenly he's harping on instincts again and telling why he believes it's true and why we should care.
Apart from that minor complaint, I found this book thoroughly enjoyable. I find modern discussions of linguistics to shed so much light on 'true' grammar and understanding the role words really play in sentence meaning (including his little discussion about whether the word 'of' actually has any meaning or merely marks other words that convey meaning). I especially enjoyed the afterward, not just because of the research updates, but because it showed the author himself had grown over the intervening 13 years and acquired a sense of humor about himself.
I'm kind of conflicted about this book. On one hand, I had some serious difficulty managing to slog through it. Even in his more recent books, Pinker has a hard time making his information tell a story that holds the reader's interest (to his credit, he's gotten a little better in his last couple of books). This being an earlier work, you get to see him take nerd to a level you might not even realize existed without much in the way of charm or readability. His ability to get way too involved in over analyzing the mist insignificant details is both what makes him so fascinating and at the same boring beyond measure.
With all that said, sometimes people are in the mood for actually understanding something. Nonfiction books are supposed to be educational, but too often they are dumbed down and simplified, which can be quite unsatisfying. Sometimes slogging through difficult material can give greater rewards than books that spoon feed and smooth out the edges. Sometimes the tangents that analyze minute details satisfy curiosities that might otherwise linger. Pinker certainly "leaves no stone unturned", as the cliché goes. The result is that I really feel like I learned something instead of reading fluff or unbalanced ideology. Pinker does spend a little too much time getting into the nerd version of pissing matches with his contemporaries, but this isn't the worst example of this I've seen from him.
I've gone back and forth on whether to give this book 3 or 4 stars. I guess it's one book that can fit all over the rating scale for different reasons. But I am very glad I read it, and other people who like to get to the bottom of things will too.
I was initially concerned by the length of this book, being a sign that I was in for a tedious listen. How pleasantly surprised I was by this clearly written and interesting work. Fascinating look at how similar all languages are and how they evolve over time. Pinker shows that for the human species, language is instinctual. Highly recommended.
Band guy who always wants to be better at something.
This book delves into the history and evolution of language. It's nice to get the "how we got here", which is much more enlightening.
Chapter 1 got me hooked, and the subject is very related to my research. However the book is redundant if you have any idea about Naom Chomsky's work. My take on the book is that most of the research it talks about is not well designed and fails to accept the fact that computers are available.
I would have just referred listeners to accompanying material instead of reading long lists of words or examples that are included in many parts of the book.
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I'm 24% done and that's enough. I'm not learning a thing, it's very text-booky, and nowhere near as interesting as I hoped it would be.
I don't like to waste my money so I often plow through books even if I don't like them ... but this one was only 5$; not worth the effort!
Very informative and mostly interesting, but you must bear through some less interesting sections here and there as Pinker explains some important concepts.
I am a clay sculptor and an art instructor at a community college. I mostly listen to audiobooks while I work in my home studio.
I enjoyed this book, though some of the pieces of information or anecdotes weren't new to me. I liked how the author clearly laid out his arguments, though I didn't always need 15 examples of the phrase or concept he was explaining. The book was a pleasant listen and I was pleased that it was broader than a basic discussion of language. The author allowed himself to spend time explaining related concepts and instincts to put the language stuff in perspective.
My main concern with the book was that it was a bit dated in places, including one reference that was just ridiculous from a 2012 perspective (but not central to the story Pinker was trying to tell). The book was first written in 94, I think, but was updated more recently. The end of book addresses those dated items. It was nice to hear a short update on some of the affected topics, though it sounds like Pinker's general theories did not change. The dated bits were mostly just pop culture references, I think the science (or theory) holds up.