Steven Pinker is a psychologist and a psycholinguist, which makes this book his niche area of expertise. And it immediately shows right from the beginning.
It is a clever book about words, and the thought process behind their usage in a sentence. It is about how the structure of languages dictates our way of thinking. It is about how learning a new word in its context can shape or even alter the brain. It is about the intonation and aggression of a language that create cultures.
But regretfully, the brilliant idea isn’t matched by an equally excellent execution.
This is my 3rd Steven Pinker book out of 5 that I have in my possession – talking bout Tsundoku. And as it is the pattern with the first 2 that I’ve read, although the core ideas are superb he dwells on them a little too much that it dilutes the brilliance of his arguments.
Indeed it’s never straight forward with professor Pinker, he cannot go from A to B without tempted to detour first to J, M, Q. Hence, the unnecessary 500+ pages in his books.
They say that we do not need to finish a book if it’s a lost cause, with the golden rule of 100 minus your age. Hence, if you’re 60 years old, if after 40 pages you still cannot find the benefit of reading the book, just stop reading. If you’re 30 years old, stop after 70 pages if it doesn’t interest you further.
Still, he’s THE Harvard Professor Steven Pinker, and his ideas are world class, just look at his brilliant speeches and talks. And beneath the messy professor vibe, there are important pointers to be learned. If only we can find it.
So, in the end I still managed myself to skim read the rest of the book to find some gems about words and language in the middle of the mumbles of his words. Irony not intended. And sure enough I find some valuable lessons along the way such as the 5 different ways people swear, using only the F word to make the points. Delightful.