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Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classic Prose

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  311 ratings  ·  41 reviews
Everyone talks about style, but no one explains it. The authors of this book do; and in doing so, they provoke the reader to consider style, not as an elegant accessory of effective prose, but as its very heart. At a time when writing skills have virtually disappeared, what can be done? If only people learned the principles of verbal correctness, the essential rules, would ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published December 15th 1996 by Princeton University Press (first published November 25th 1994)
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4.04  · 
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 ·  311 ratings  ·  41 reviews

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Edward O'Neill
Feb 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is not Strunk and White.

And it's not really about sentences and phrases.

It's about ontology--which Thomas and Turner call 'theology.'

Basically, there was a way of writing that begins in earnest around Descartes' "Discourse on Method," was widely adopted by French writers of the 17th century, and can be found in American writers from Franklin and Jefferson to Samuel Clemens to A. J. Liebling.

Thomas and Turner dub this mode of writing "the classic style." The classic style assumes that realit
Jul 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
(~80k words book, ~56k word online guide; ~3h without doing any exercises) A style book which actually delivers real style advice! I first heard of it on Robin Hanson's blog and followed up recently when I saw they've put up an online edition/guide. The "classic style" names a style I've always admired - smooth, calm, humanistic, and elegant - which appears in a variety of writers past and present (Gene Wolfe often writes in this style), and it's a pleasure to see it examined and its strengths a ...more
Craig W.
Jul 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: writers
We have all read books that tackled complex subjects with clarity and elegance such that when we finished, we felt we understood exactly what the author wanted us to. We have also read books that required hard work and page flipping that left us more impressed by the author’s convoluted argument than by what he wanted us to know. The goal of “Clear and Simple” is to educate then train the reader in a writing style designed to achieve the former outcome. Writers of academic, technical, pedagogic ...more
I discovered this through the first half of Stephen Pinker's new book being little more than an extended advertisement for — and extended summary of — it. It wasn't until reading this, however, that I realised I'd been placing the emphasis in the wrong place when telling everyone about Pinker's version of it. I'd previously been talking about ‘classic style’ as if it were style that is, er, classic. But it really makes much more sense to stress it the other way around — it's not so much about st ...more
Oct 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
I love quirky books like this that shine a bright and narrow beam on a topic I didn't know I was interested in.
The classic style as defined here is very French, but its pretense since its origin is that it is universal and timeless, and so it is: a wonderful artifice for presenting Truth.
Now, I want to read Euclid!
Graeme Roberts
Oct 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A perfect book. I loved its precision, and the beauty of the classic style, which is shown to endure translation from French, German, Spanish. Not for hacks, just for cracks!
Thore Husfeldt
Aug 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Truth exists, it is accessible to the author, and can be communicated to the reader with clarity. Presentation is distinct from description. The imagined setting of the communication is that of one person (the author) pointing out something to the other person (the reader); the reader is interested in the subject, intellectually and aesthetically equal to the author, but less knowledgeable. Writing is an intellectual ability that hides its work, arriving at perfect expression without acknowledgi ...more
Apr 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: about-writing

The teaching of writing in America is almost entirely controlled by the view that teaching writing is teaching verbal skills—from the placing of commas to the ordering of paragraphs.

I loved this from the first paragraph. Even in literary writing we are told that we should write to be listened to rather than write to be read. The exercise of reading your work out loud is treated not as an exercise to help find problems with your writing but as an end that assumes any problems reading are automat
Feb 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rarely do I read a book that completely upends and transforms the way I think and practice something. Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classic Prose, Second Edition is one of these gems. I have long struggled with finding my own voice in writing, to break free of the shackles of academic writing and its pernicious obfuscation. This book is helping me finally develop the clear, simple, but never bland voice that I have long sought.

The writing reflects the "classic style" that the book teach
Mar 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
As a horrible Writer, I read everything I can find about writing. Although I don't intend to become a classic stylist this has been the best book about writing I have read. I learned about "Clear and Simple as the Truth" from a talk Steven Pinker gave about writing. He was actually recommending it for writing technical and academic papers_that is a fundamentally different style. I completely agree _ especially academic writers should read it! The application of the techniques in this book is not ...more
No. Just. No. This was assigned reading for class. There was exactly one part that I liked, but the rest was wasted on me because I have very little personal interest in the classic style. Sure, this book has value, and it teaches something that's worth knowing. It's just that I personally don't find its content worth knowing, at least not right now.
Mar 15, 2008 marked it as to-read
Shelves: writing
Recommended in The Situation and the Story.
Pablo Stafforini
Jun 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
My summary.
Henry Sturcke
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. One reason is the authors’ concession that classic style is but one of many valid styles of writing. Another is that the book is written in a way that exemplifies the style that it proposes. The book is in two parts of roughly equal length. The first half defines and describes classic style, the second half is a “Museum,” writing samples, mostly classic, but not all, with analysis by the authors. The book concludes with an appendix listing some books written in classic style, ...more
Jun 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Helpful and erudite, a manual that showcases but hardly defines the "classic style". The key ideas and lessons are to be observed in all writing, but I feel that this "classic style" is a post-hoc construct of the author. It's as if any clear and sound writing with an interesting twist could be called "classic". I wonder how many readers will subject themselves to the exercises from the "Studio", and to what effect. Perhaps one's style is just a combination of talent, education and grit. Nonethe ...more
Cam Lidstone
May 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
A great book where the authors explain classic style: a writing style distinguished from many others (e.g. reflexive, romantic, or plain) which are defined by the the relationship between the writer and the reader and what the writer is trying to accomplish.

The purpose of classic style is "presentation; it's motive, disinterested truth". The authors argue that successful presentation consists of aligning language with truth through clarity and simplicity.

Classic style implies that there is an o
Will Simpson
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An education on writing in the classical style. Worth reading twice.
Jan 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"Clear and Simple as the Truth," by Francis-Noël Thomas and Mark Turner, is a very fascinating book discussing the ins and outs of writing style, specifically focusing on the Classic Style of writing. The book is also revolutionary in the way it addresses the issue: style in the field of literature has always been very difficult to describe, and the creation of style has often been amounted to things like grammar and word choice, but as the book describes, it goes far deeper than that: at its ve ...more
Tasshin Fogleman
Sep 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Tasshin by: Tyler Fanning
An excellent overview of classic style, written with a clear appreciation for classic style but balanced by a sensible logic regarding other styles and their importance. I plan to re-read this a couple more times while I'm at St. John's. The style of an ideal "Johnnie" paper has some distinctions from classic style, notably the importance of questions and the resulting, unclassic uncertainty, however it appreciates and inherits some of classic styles more general merits.

"The authors of this book
Mar 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: odds-and-ends
While the subtitle implies a work similar to "Elements of Style", this book concentrates on the "theology" of classic prose. The first part contrasts classic prose with various other styles of writing, such as practical writing. The last third of the work is entitled "Museum", and this section gives examples of classic style from various works such as field guides and authors like Descartes and directly contrasts these examples with the other styles referenced earlier in the text. For me, this s ...more
Paul Cunningham
Mar 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Thomas and Turner assert that style is not about surface questions of correct usage, but fundamental principles. They are concerned with classic style, which involves the assumption that truth can known and that language can be made to fit it perfectly in such a way that it can be understood by anyone. The truth does not have to be simple - any abstract concept, such as 'privacy', or complex historical event, such as World War Two, can be presented by the classic stylist in the same way as she w ...more
Apr 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
Short version: I highly recommend this book to anyone who's interested in a beautifully written description of the high-level mechanics of writing. This book taught me a lot, in particular about the work that comes before writing.

Long version: I reviewed this book in 3 Quarks Daily's Monday Magazine: Clear and Simple Prose.
Marty Cortinas
Jan 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Picked up this book from a reference in Pinker's "The Sense of Style." It's a scholarly look at the classic style, and it reads like it. There's a lot to learn here, but it's not easy reading. If you're seeking to write clearer prose, this really isn't the book for you. But if you want to know what the classic style is, how it came about, and how it's accomplished, then this is the book.
John Wise
May 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
Style is not mere surface correctness, i.e. grammar and punctuation, but something more foundational.

"Some writers are like chefs whose work is presented to you at the table but whose labor you are never allowed to see."
Far from the best style guide out there...neither practically nor theoretically engaging. Some readers may find it useful but many may discover it not to be what they were looking for.

Rating 3 out of 5 stars.
Andrew Davis
Jun 30, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: language
Not the book for me for two reasons:
- the original book has been written in French and makes references that may not be so relevant in English
- specifically targeted towards copy writers, journalists, etc.
Joe Holland
Oct 25, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Worth its Weight in Manuscripts

A precision that borders on the pretentious—exactly what a reader is looking for in a book about writing and style.
Daniel Murray
Jan 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Concise and extensive description of the classic style

I particularly enjoyed the last 10 pages that provide a list of authors and their works that apply the classic style.
Tad Richards
Oct 31, 2014 rated it it was ok
This book actually has some interesting things to say about style, but my God, the prose! It's so murky and dense and academic as to be almost unreadable.
Jul 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
A well-written, entertaining & thought-provoking short book about style, specifically the assumptions writers make about themselves, their subjects & their readers.
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