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Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  1,261 ratings  ·  238 reviews
Good Prose is an inspiring book about writing—about the creation of good prose—and the record of a warm and productive literary friendship. The story begins in 1973, in the offices of The Atlantic Monthly, in Boston, where a young freelance writer named Tracy Kidder came looking for an assignment. Richard Todd was the editor who encouraged him. From that article grew a lif ...more
Hardcover, 195 pages
Published January 15th 2013 by Random House
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Jeff Kelleher
Jan 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This short work is not "Everything You Need to Know About Writing." Nor is it a didactic set of rules in the manner of Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style." Even less is it a collection of Miss Grundy's scoldings.

Rather, it is a seminar-like rumination by an author and editor, drawn from their 40 years of collaboration, on things they deem worth ruminating about. Read it during a Sunday afternoon while sipping a beer or a claret and you will be entertained and enriched.

I will mention just a
Jun 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
We know that as soon as writers begin to tell a story they shape experience and that stories are always, at best, partial versions of reality, and thus objectivity is a myth.

This joint endeavor from Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Tracy Kidder and his longtime editor Richard Todd is a great guide for writers, and for readers/thinkers. Structured around the three types or nonfiction, the authors devote a chapter to narratives, memoirs, and essays. These form chapters pull several quotes and exa
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Wanna-be writers like me are always looking for good books on good writing. I love Tracy Kidder’s writing and, if Richard Todd is, indeed, Kidder’s long-time editor, then he is also on my Good Boy list.

So I thus fell into that old trap of Anticipating and Having Expectations that so often disappoints.

I tell you this so you won’t Anticipate and Expect, too.

This is a lovely book, a lovely story of friendship and learning to work together, and learning to write and learning to edit, but it is no
Feb 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed Kidder-and-Todd’s GOOD PROSE: THE ART OF NONFICTION (definitely five stars), where they argue “that the publishing industry is not organized to reward editors who spend a lot of time on books,” but I am surprised that they have nothing to say about MFA programs. “A writer should try to involve the editor early in the process,” they advise. “You don’t want a perfunctory involvement. You want investment.” This sounds to me like Good MFA Mentoring. They also state: “Even those who have be ...more
Mar 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: language
What a difficult challenge one sets oneself, when one creates something about the very medium in which one is working. To give a lecture on public speaking is to invite criticism. So too to write about non-fiction. And how much bigger the target one becomes when one already has a name, such as that of Tracey Kidder whose reputation was established by the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Soul of a New Machine". So yeah, this shit better be good.

And it is. Holy crap, Kidder can write. And not just write pr
Dawn Lennon
Oct 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
I'll admit that I am a die-hard Tracy Kidder fan and he never disappoints. The fact that he won the Pulitzer Prize once and has written several other exceptional books, most categorized as narrative nonfiction, drew me instantly to his new book with Richard Todd on the art of nonfiction writing. Here I was combing the bookstore shelves for books to expand my own perspectives and approaches on my writing and voila Kidder's book appears.

This is an advice book not a how to per se. It provides persp
Yelda Basar Moers
Mar 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
Good Prose is an unconventional writing guide. I wouldn’t even call it a writing guide, it’s more of a memoir of a writing team, a writer and editor who have been working together longer than the age of most readers of this book. Tracy Kidder, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and Richard Todd, a preeminent editor and a former executive editor of The Atlantic Monthly, have worked on numerous writing projects over their forty years together, including Kidder’s award-winning book The Soul of a New ...more
Hank Stuever
Jan 20, 2016 rated it liked it
I found more to agree with than disagree with here and I liked the interplay between a writer (Tracy Kidder) and his life-long editor (Richard Todd). The editor/writer relationship is a strange and intimate thing; difficult to describe to people who haven't lived it. Readers of this book should know -- if the authors haven't made it perfectly clear -- that Kidder and Todd worked under rarefied and practically extinct circumstances. They have a lot to tell us about the art of nonfiction, but noth ...more
James Sorensen
Oct 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
Disclaimer: I won this book as part of the Goodreads first-read program.

On one level this book is an instructional manual on how to write and edit non-fiction books and magazine articles. Kidder and Todd break down how to create non-friction prose step-by-step, from inception to finished product. This is a view of what a well organized team of editor and writer can achieve when they work hard together. It will help the new writers starting out, but will also help the established writers understa
Apr 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
I plan to purchase this as a writing reference. I would prefer they used more examples from sources who are not white males, but the advice and instruction provided here is valuable.
Kathy Davie
Jun 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
It's as Kidder says on the cover: "Stories and advice from a lifetime of writing and editing".

My Take
Kidder says "it is essential only that there be something important at stake, a problem that confronts the characters or confronts the reader in trying to understand them. The unfolding of the problem and its resolution are the real payoff. A car chase is not required."

While it's aimed primarily at writers of nonfiction, it's worth reading for anyone interested in writing whether it's fiction, no
Jul 17, 2018 rated it it was ok
I've enjoyed several of Tracy Kidder's books and heard him give a very interesting talk about his writing methods, so I had high hopes for this, but was somewhat disappointed. He makes a big deal early on how the non-fiction writer "can't pass off invention as facts" but then praises Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which does exactly that. I don't get it, particularly for current events type reporting, not memoir or essay or whatever.
There are still good tidbits of advice. My favorite was
This is about the art of writing non-fiction, written by the long time duo of Tracy Kidder (a Pulitzer Prize winner) and his long suffering and brilliant editor, Richard Todd. While it's best suited to writers, as an avid reader, I found this insiders look into a craft that I greatly admire but cannot hope to try my hand at extremely interesting. These guys have decades of stories to tell, and plenty of wisdom to share. Many of the books they have mentioned in this book of theirs have now been a ...more
Jul 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
One of the most helpful books I've ever read on non-fiction, creative writing. The authors are a writer and editor team who worked for years and talked for years on good writing. Definitely will be referencing this book again. ...more
A. _____
Jan 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
Good Prose is a good book on non-fiction writing and an excellent book on the relationship between Kidder and Todd. 

As someone who had great working relationships with her peers (though never a boss!) I appreciated reading about their collaboration and friendship. The chapter on editing and being edited is both insightful and delightful.

This is not a how-to book or a strict guide on what and when to write. It reads like an interesting (and often humorous) podcast on writing by two people very
Nicky Lim
May 06, 2019 rated it did not like it
Gave up the book at 43%. What a boring read. No wonder it only retails for $5 on the Kindle store.

The author beats around the bush and doesn't explain his points clearly. Even after reading 3 pages, I have no idea what he is trying to say.

Supposedly a book on how to write well. I guess it's ironic that it is such a bad read. Perhaps I'm just a poor audience that isn't cut out for the world of good literature, and therefore can't appreciate this book. Welp.
Sep 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written prose on writing prose, the main thing I took away from reading this is that an author needs a good editor, and an editor must need a whole lot of patience. Aside from the writing advice alot of other non-fiction authors are mentioned along with some interesting books I plan to look for.
Melvin Marsh, M.S.
Feb 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing
Kidder and Todd but together a book about writing non-fiction. It goes over several types of non-fiction although I am not sure if the division is needed as some of the advice is capable of being used for any form of non-fiction or even fiction. I've read better. I've read worse. ...more
Jul 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing

Brief Summary: Two friends, a writer and his editor, talk about what makes good writing, and in doing so they present an intimate view into why writers love what they do.

The Tsundoku Scale: Top of the Pile, 9 out of 10.

The Good:
This is not a book I would have ever chosen without a recommendation, but it is a book I am truly grateful to have read. Good Prose is the first true conversation I have ever seen in book form. It flows, like a conversation between two old friends that begins at one poin
Rebecca Reid
Dec 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd (Random House, January 2013) is a volume about what makes nonfiction great. Using their own experiences as a writer of nonfiction (Tracy Kidder, bestselling author) and an editor of creative nonfiction (Richard Todd, Atlantic editor), the two friends provide a compelling tale of what makes good writing good, and what makes a good writer a good writer, covering everything from how to begin and how to structure a narrative to the m ...more
Frank Stein
Jul 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's no surprise that this is a well-written book, filled with good examples and valuable advice. Like many books about writing well, it has the added benefit of helping one read with insight. More atypically, this book also contains some useful thoughts about the increasingly forgotten process of editing and being edited.

Tracy Kidder, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and his longtime editor at the Atlantic Magazine, Richard Todd, describe the process of writing nonfiction narratives, essays, and memoi
May 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
I started reading this book in one location and finished it in another. Soon after starting it, I anticipated that it was going to be a "fun read," since I recognized many lessons as existing in some form in other books I've read. This assumption misled me into thinking I could read the book for enjoyment alone. I read at least one-fourth of the book that way and then put it down while I changed my location (from FL to ME).

In Maine, I picked the book up again, but my bookmark had fallen out. Wh
A quick review for a quick read. My e-copy for "Good Prose" was about 149 pages and while it was brief, the read itself didn't feel that way as it was packed with experiences narrated between author Tracy Kidder and his editor Richard Todd. I wouldn't say this is a traditional "guide" to writing, but rather a reflection of the experiences, narratives perused, and knowledge that the two have on certain dimensions of writing non-fiction in any realm. Whether it's starting a particular narrative, r ...more
Cindy Rollins
Nov 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
I enjoyed reading the back and forth between writer and editor that went on in this book. It gave me a peak at how the process works sometimes.

As I writer I appreciated Mr. Todd's(editor)acknowledgement that to change the words himself is to change the voice. I often cringe when reading something that I have written that has had the wording change. The change is almost always awkward and Todd explains why. Rather he offers more of a give and take approach to his authors. This process seems to t
Sep 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
Thank you to Random House for providing a review copy via the Goodreads First Read program.

I enjoyed this book very much. I don't think I would call this a writing guide, it is more a memoir of two friends who met through writing. One became a well-known writer and the other was already a respected editor and later a writer as well. I enjoyed the interaction between Kidder and Todd as they recounted their professional and personal lives over the past 40 years. I also enjoyed reading about the en
Antoinette Perez
A very, very high-level overview of what it takes to write nonfiction well. If I wanted to create an action plan, this wouldn't be the book to help. But it's well-considered and nicely written, and there are entire passages that are truly profound. Here's one of just one of my favorite passages (and I highlighted many):

"The economy of words is a wondrous system. Language is free and available to all in limitless quantities, an utterly democratic commodity. But as soon as you help yourself to thi
Caroline Bock
Jul 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: New and Established Writers
I just finished a new book about writing, GOOD PROSE: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and his editor Richard Todd. This is worth a read for new writers and more established ones. Some of its gems include a chapter on point of view in creative nonfiction as well as a chapter on “Being Edited and Editing.” The work ends with an insightful chapter on usage and grammar, which includes a warning against medical, political and digital age clichés including my own pet peeve—use of “mega” and “gig ...more
Jerry Landry
Feb 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013-reads
I wouldn’t necessarily call this an instructional book on writing as much as a memoir telling the story and providing anecdotes/helpful hints from two people who worked so closely together as writer and editor. In particular, the last chapter, “Being Edited and Editing,” was personally satisfying to hear them talk about the long, hard hours (weeks/months/years) that both of them put into a piece of work in their respective roles and how their process had transformed over time. I’d recommend this ...more
Jan Priddy
Jan 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
GOOD PROSE is more craft book than memoir, but it might be the memoir portions that make it sing. If I were teaching a more advanced creative nonfiction class than Wr 121, I would make this one of the assigned texts. Kidder worked with editor Todd for decades beginning with an early piece about a killer in California for The Atlantic, and collaboratively on such fine nonfiction books as House and Mountains Beyond Mountains. They speak from the positions of editor and edited and what they know is ...more
Mar 16, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2013-reads
I didn't find anything particularly innovative or surprising here, but I wouldn't have expected that from Kidder and Todd, anyway. It was a solid overview - with straightforward chapter titles and subheadings like Beginnings, Story, Point of View, Character, Structure, Memoirs, Essays, and the Problem of Style. Most interesting was Kidder's vehement dislike of Janet Malcolm's Journalist and the Murderer and the final chapter on "Being Edited and Editing." ...more
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Tracy Kidder is an American author and Vietnam War veteran. Kidder may be best known, especially within the computing community, for his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Soul of a New Machine, an account of the development of Data General's Eclipse/MV minicomputer. The book typifies his distinctive style of research. He began following the project at its inception and, in addition to interviews, spent c ...more

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