Readers’ eyes will sometimes sparkle with new insight, sometimes glaze at the dense exposition.

LANGUAGE

THE CULTURAL TOOL

Everett (Dean of Arts and Sciences/Bentley Univ.; Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazon Jungle, 2008, etc.) challenges Noam Chomsky, arguing that grammar and language are learned.

The author begins and ends with images of fire, calling language “the cognitive fire.” After some obligatory comments about how he intends to be fair with his opponents, he soars off into his thesis about how language is a tool—one that we acquire rather than inherit genetically, rather like a bow and arrow. Throughout, Everett endeavors to leaven his otherwise heavy narrative with anecdotes (especially about his years living with the Amazonian Pirahã) and with allusions to music and to popular culture—among others, he looks at Phil Spector, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Mick Jagger and the Lone Ranger and Tonto. The author dismisses the idea that there’s a “language gene,” and he explains linguistic terms like Zipf’s Law, discreteness, contingency and recursion. He finds ways to chip chinks in Chomsky’s armor and dives gleefully into the controversy surrounding Benjamin Whorf, who maintained that our languages circumscribe our thoughts. Everett closely examines the Pirahã, noting that they have no words for numbers or colors, but mothers nonetheless know how many children they have. He pauses now and then for more extensive explanations of related topics, like cross-cultural ideas of kinship, noting that our (American) terms for first and second cousin (and the notion of “removed”) are disappearing because we no longer use them. The author grieves at the loss of any language, takes a shot or two at public schools for their failure to teach about dialects and notes how each language makes its speakers happy.

Readers’ eyes will sometimes sparkle with new insight, sometimes glaze at the dense exposition.

Pub Date: March 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-37853-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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