Steven Pinker

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Department of Psychology
Harvard University
Best American Science and Nature Writing The Blank Slate Words and Rules How the Mind Works The Language Instinct Learnability and Cognition Language Learnability and Language Development Edited Academic Volumes


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Excerpts from reviews

Pinker writes clearly and engagingly about the most difficult matters.
American Airlines Way

... an excellent overview of what is known about the nature of language. ... Pinker has a fine knack for elucidating complex linguistic theory in such clean prose that it all seems transparent—a difficult feat when performing the graceful but complex aerial turn of subject-verb-object to subject-object-verb sentence that shows that Japanese and English sentences actually work the same way. Using the kind of examples that make you read them out loud and then think, "That's fascinating," Pinker lays out the last 30 years of linguistic konwledge.
Associated Press

Dr. Pinker writes with acid verve ... This is an exciting book, certain to produce argument.
The Atlantic Monthly

[Best of Year List:] Finally we have the book we've all been waiting for: everything you always wanted to know about language but were afraid you wouldn't understand. In one beautifully written volume we get dazzlingly clear explanations of theoretical concepts like Chomksy's generative grammar, the mysteries of phonology and the evolution of language; exeperimental evidence for how people parse speech or perceive speech sounds; and lucid discussions of such controversial issues as "the grammar gene," and the "ultimate mother tongue." Best of all, it's fun to read.
The Boston Book Review

Examples are clear and easy to understand; Pinker's humor and insight make this the perfect introduction to the world of cognitive science and language. Highly recommended.

... an excellent book full of wit and wisdom and sound judgment. .. better than most college courses on language and the mind—and a great deal more digestible.
The Boston Globe

This book, like no other, makes the sciences of language intelligible to lay readers without patronizing them, even as it entertains with comedy and wit. ... it probably deserves a Pullet Surprise.
The Chicago Tribune

... a fascinating intellectual quest that depends on theory, deduction, and data. ... The book is peppered (and salted) with excellent and persuasive examples from both the laboratory and the real world. Most endearing is his demonstration of the power and beauty of language with examples from Dr. Seuss to Shakespeare and Yogi Berra to Martin Luther King. ... Just as Pinker promises in the preface, ... this book is for everyone!

A book on language by an academic sounds like a surefire recipe for psychobabble—but not if that academic is Professor Steven Pinker. Combining unpretentious style with vast erudition, Prof Pinker can make even the origin of irregular verbs riveting. Inevitably, his arguments owe much to the controversial linguistics guru, Noam Chomsky, but anyone who thinks only dolts fuss over split infinitives can't be all bad.
Daily Telegraph

... combines science and language in a witty and new account of the nature and structure of our thinking.
Daily Telegraph

Pinker has the requisite intellectual flair and literary panache to engagingly conduct us through this vast territory. Pinker's irreverence, wit, and adeptness with language enable him to make an otherwise dry and abstruse field—linguistics—fascinating and important to the nonprofessional reader.
Earth Star

... a triumph of common sense over some of the nonsense that has dominated psychology and linguistics for much of this century. .. A book about language had better be well written, and Mr. Pinker's book is superbly so. Rarely can such a rich harvest of new ideas and profound insights have been made so accessible by one of their inventors. ... he is unfailingly articulate, funny, and clear. The book is to Chomsky as Shakespeare is to Spenser.
The Economist

Perhaps the most significant book about grammar to appear since the publication of Noam Chomsky's Syntactic Structures (1957) ... Unlike much of Chomsky's writing, Pinker's theory of language requires no interpreters. His book has the added advantage of being both witty and profound.
Educational Leadership

I have read nothing so entertaining and intellectually stimulating this year. ... He sets sets out to demonstrate that language is not a cultural invention but a neurological mechanism, and along the way offers up many witty and fascinating reflections on anthropology.
Financial Times

a cracking book ... marvelous ... wonderful to read.
The Guardian

[Best of Year List:] In a healthy field of contenders, the big favourite—literate, humane, funny, touching, and important. ... Words are humankind's true currency, and this book takes you a lot nearer the mint.
The Guardian

... a dazzling new book. ... This is all immensely fine and trenchant, and Pinker embarks on his argument with brilliant dash and swagger: "I want to debauch your mind with learning," he begins. ... What a wonderful ambition. Not many writers aim this high. [he is] a canny writer and a bit of a wag. ... The Language Instinct vibrates with delicious asides and poignant discoveries. ... Words can hardly do justice to the superlative range and liveliness of Pinker's investigations.
The Independent

Steven Pinker writes with the ebullient exuberance of a novelist or poet. He is clearly in love with language, and not merely in the intellectual sense. At times he writes as if he is intoxicated with the richness and diversity of its content. In making a point, he is just as likely to quote from All My Children as from The Bard. Pinker's prose is a pleasure to read, laced through- out with wit and humor. You might think that the entertainment would be bought at the price of sacrificing scientific precision, but Pinker has a rare ability to express profound, original reflections in a way that is frankly entertaini- ing. As a consequence, although the book is packed full of new ideas, often on difficult and challenging topics, it is simply a delight to read. ... [Pinker's] science is deeply imbued with an appreciation of the joy to be had from indulging in the creative side of human behavior, balanced with humanistic concern over possible misuse of concepts of innateness in furthering the understanding of human behavior. Hopefully, those who follow will be equally sensible in balancing scientific rigor with an appreciation of the enormous creative potential with which language, and the Universal Grammar, enriches the lives and members of our species.
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

Pinker eloquently explains the details of Chomsky's revolutionary theory, and then proceeds to bring us up-to-date on the latest advances in linguistics. ... Luckily, he's also a user-friendly writer able to transform technical stuff into a fun and informative read. ... But don't be fooled by the entertainment: Pinker is dead serious about language.

... an impressive book. It is vividly written by a man of great learning. ... full of useful information to impart at cocktail parties.
Literary Review

... an accessible, entertaining, and authoritative introduction to the modern science of language. ... It is a joy to witness, at last, the promise of linguistics fulfilled.
London Review of Books

Splendid ... Not bad for a supposedly stuffy scholar from MIT.
The Los Angeles Times

Steven Pinker has made several landmark contributions to cognitive science in the past, and his latest book The Language Instinct constitutes yet another one. [It is] written in an exceptionally clear, engaging, and witty style and directed towards a general audience. ... A brilliant piece of work. It succeeds in demonstrating that the recent discoveries about the uniquely human ability to acquire and use language are as elegant and exciting as anything in modern science.
Mind and Language

A mightily ambitious book ... With an unusual and attractive blend of patience and wit, Pinker is extremely good at explaining. ... Pinker is not yet 40; with his voracious intelligence and his gift for prose, we can expect many more installments from the front lines of neuroscience.
The Montreal Gazette

Because the book is laced throughout with wit and humor, we might think that the entertainment is bought at the price of sacrificing scientific precision. But Pinker has a rare ability to express profound, original reflections in a way that is frankly entertaining. As a consequence, the book is a a delight to read, even though it is packed with new ideas, often on difficult and challenging topics.
Natural History

... a marvelously readable book about language, written by a real expert. Steven Pinker tackles with wit and erudition the kinds of question everyone asks... [he] brings not only an expertise in linguistics and psychology and a wide knowledge of biology, but also an ability to understand the ordinary peron's linguistic hang-ups and to shake them loose with gentle ridicule. ... Whatever its eventual impact on linguistics and psychology, The Language Instinct will unoubtedly be greeted as a distinguished contribution to the lay understanding of science. ... With its wealth of examples, its flawless typsetting, its wide-ranging bibliography and its irresistable good humour, Pinker' book is certain to increase its readers' respect for the amazing natural phenomena that the author and his colleagues have made their life's study.

... extremely important... The power of the book ... is in the elegant assembly of a coherent argument, based on a foundation of evolutionary biology. ... The Language Instinct is provocative. But there are no cheap points scored nor is there any intemperate denunciation of opposing views. ... The case is intelligently structured, forcefully argued, and couched in beautiful prose. Readers may reject Pinker's conclusions, but they will greatly enjoy the experience of the journey through his mind.
New Scientist

... Pinker is unfailingly stimulating, as well as writing in a genuinely democratic style that combines elegance with unforced touches of the popular.
New Statesman and Society

For anyone with even the slightest sympathy for Chomsky's work, Pinker's book The Language Instinct is a most impressive achievement. Already much acclaimed for his ingenious research, Pinker demonstrates here a remarkable ability to explain the principal methods and findings of the contemporary study of language. ... I expect that many readers will be delighted and informed, if not reformed, by this book. ... [a] masterful exposition of the human language faculty.
#8212;The New York Review of Books

The most arresting chapter in Steven Pinker's chatty, wide-ranging new book is titled "Mentalese," after what the author calls the "silent medium of the brain" in which thoughts are couched. ... Mr. Pinker's compulsion to joke is by turns amusing and instructive ... a useful, compelling book.
The New York Times

... a brilliant, witty, and altogether satisfying book. ... Mr. Pinker has that facility, so rare among scientists, of making the most difficult material accessible to the average reader. Most important, he never talks down to his reader. ... the fundamental unity of humanity is the theme of ... this exciting book.
The New York Times Book Review

... a brilliant exposition. ... he expounds ideas with clarity, wit, and polish.
The Observer

...shows an artistry with language that matches his knowledge of linguistics.
The Observer

A book to inspire. ... It is beautifully written and can serve as a model of making complex material understandable.
Perspectives of The Orton Dyslexia Society

[an] exciting synthesis—an entertaining, totally accessible study that will regale language lovers and challenge professionals in many disciplines. ... a beautiful hymn to the creative potential of language.
Publisher's Weekly

a great book... Its author is in love with language and revels in its uses ... While providing an astonishingly thorough course in psycholinguistics, Pinker also manages to be funnier than I would have thought such a substantive, critical discussion could possibly be. ... Pinker's biology is impeccably up-do-date. Indeed, he displays a much more sophisticated and critical understanding of issues in evolution and adaptation than most biologists. The Language Instinct should be a candidate for best book of the 90's. Or at least a Pullet Surprise.
Quarterly Review of Biology

A remarkably engaging book ... packed tight with observations, experimental results, insight and forceful arguments based on what we all know of language but never analyze. This reader finds Professor Pinker's genuinely instructive volume funny as well, a delightful member of that rare genre headed by the classic "Life on the Mississippi."
Scientific American

...a remarkable work of scientific imagination. ... Pinker's book is a tour de force, bringing the science of language to bear on the wilder shores of anthropology, neurology, and genetics. ... It is a work of philosophy as much as science, with that teasing hint of theology that make Stephen Hawking's Short History of Time a bestseller. ... Once entered, I found it hard to leave.
The Spectator

... an important and fascinating book.... Professsor Pinker writes very clearly and wittily. He makes us appreciate the marvelous nature of what we ordinarily take for granted—one of the marks of a good populariser.
The Sunday Telegraph

His own use of language is a powerful advertisement for this human ability, as he lays his stall out with clarity and candour. ... Darwin ... would surely be impressed by the way in which Pinker sheds light on these questions. ... a superb book, simply at the level of being a good read: it is packed with fascinating facts and information ... Pinker debunks with panache, cuts through the confusion of jargon, and tells a mean anecdote. He does for language what David Attenborough does for animals, explaining difficult scientific concepts so easily that they are indeed absorbed as a transparent stream of words. ... The Language Instinct is the kind of book that doesn't come along very often... We are scarcely into the second quarter of 1994 yet, but I will be astonished if a better science book of any kind, let alone one accessible to the general reader, comes along this year. Surely, in just about a year from now Pinker will be picking up the next science book prize. His book is groundbreaking, exhilirating, fun, and almost certainly correct. Do yourself a favour and read it.
The Sunday Times (London)

... a truly fascinating account of new thinking about linguistics.
The Sunday Times (London)

Absorbing ... he makes a persuasive, entertaining case for his thesis.

... a brilliant study of language. ... Language is full of mysteries, which Pinker excavates like a pig after truffles. Professor Pinker ... was a brave man to write this book, for who would have taken it seriously if it had been clodhoppingly written? As it happens, he writes splendidly.
The Times (London)

A fascinating book about words, full of nuggets that you want to read out to other people.
The Times (London)

Here, in vivid understandable terms Steven Pinker ... presents the revolutionary insights of Noam Chomsky, together with his own ideas. ... The Language Instinct is rich in sometimes unfamiliar and quite difficult ideas, but it is written to be understood and enjoyed. ... How did langauge evolve? Why is structural grammatical language specifically human? How old is language? Such quesions are discussed here with a rare vitality of intense excitement to understand and communicate. ... It is a real achievement to bring all this together into such a readable work of imaginative deep scholarship.
Times Higher Education Supplement

[an] excellent contribution to the genre [of books on our origins]. ... manages to convey ... how exciting even the driest patches of linguistic and palaeological science can be.
Times Literary Supplement

the most lucid, charming, and wide-ranging popularization of Noam Chomsky's linguistics ever written.
Toronto Globe and Mail

... mind-changing ... at the new frontier ... Please have someone buy it for you, or buy it for yourself. ... To my many word-curious correspondents, ... I am now inclined to reply "Read Pinker, and call me back tomorrow." I devoured the book in one unsettling session, ... and now plan to digest it more carefully. ... takes you as painlessly as possible into Chomskian structures.
Unix Review

He writes with authority and grace about the sprawling science of linguistics, making even its thornier branches accessible to general readers. ... [many subfields] are clearly and wittily set forth.
USA Today