Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Kingdom of Speech” as Want to Read:
The Kingdom of Speech
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Kingdom of Speech

3.51  ·  Rating details ·  1,623 ratings  ·  365 reviews
The maestro storyteller and reporter provocatively argues that what we think we know about speech and human evolution is wrong.

Tom Wolfe, whose legend began in journalism, takes us on an eye-opening journey that is sure to arouse widespread debate. The Kingdom of Speech is a captivating, paradigm-shifting argument that speech—not evolution—is responsible for humanity's
...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published August 30th 2016 by Little, Brown and Company (first published 2016)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Kingdom of Speech, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Mackenzie Your rebuttal would be compelling if it weren't just an appeal to authority. I'm not sure that I disagree - I'll wait until I've read the book to…moreYour rebuttal would be compelling if it weren't just an appeal to authority. I'm not sure that I disagree - I'll wait until I've read the book to determine that - but for now this seems - quite ironically - no better than the drivel you accuse Wolfe's book of being. (Have you even read the book?)(less)
Mark Great question Don--I'd agree with both your premise and the other answer--Wolfe's "schtick" is ironic because he's a privileged man who takes down…moreGreat question Don--I'd agree with both your premise and the other answer--Wolfe's "schtick" is ironic because he's a privileged man who takes down OTHER privileged men in a style that doesn't wear well. That said, we had both Chomsky and Darwin "disciples" in our book club discussion, and it was clear they were defensive about having their heroes attacked. (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.51  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,623 ratings  ·  365 reviews


More filters
 | 
Sort order
Start your review of The Kingdom of Speech
Warwick
Dec 15, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: language
Not having read any Tom Wolfe before, I was riveted by the prose style of this book, with its ellipses, colloquial asides, and multiple exclamation marks. I am sure it is possible to write a great book with this technique and perhaps Tom Wolfe has already done it, but this one is unfortunately a complete mess.

I say ‘unfortunately’ because as a matter of fact I agree with his basic position. What Wolfe is trying to do is summarise the internecine fighting of the linguistics world that followed
...more
Jason Merchant
Sep 03, 2016 rated it did not like it
If you ever wanted to read a book about a scientific field or two (in Wolfe's trademark flamboyant prose) that was utterly innocent of any understanding of science, here's your chance. This vapid piece of preening ignorance will stand as a pointless landmark (or better yet, sink like a witless stone) to sturm-und-drang self-regard. As an erstwhile colleague of mine put it in his review of the book in the Washington Post (here), the book is "unsullied by research."

You don't have to be an
...more
Douglas Wilson
A great entertaining read. Wolfe gets off some magnificent and irreverent lines, aimed at the neo-Darwinian hand-wavers. Moreover, he is largely invulnerable to any counter attack from them because the one place he does his own hand-waving is a place where none of them can go. I hope to write more about this later.
Valerie Horner
Sep 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing

When getting my Master’s degree in English, I discovered the fascinating world of linguistics. With my emphasis in English as a Second Language, I took classes in Psycholinguistics (which is the physical and neurological aspects of language acquisition). I was especially intrigued by how language functions similarly to the genetic code, and I loved Modern Grammar which can be used with any language using the principles of Universal Grammar. Universal Grammar, postulates Noam Chomsky (the
...more
L.A. Starks
May 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
After Wolfe's death I looked for books he authored that I hadn't read. This is one.

The Kingdom of Speech is short (170 pages) and leans more on research than reporting. However, like all Tom Wolfe books it is a fun read, extremely clear, and non-obvious as he dissects the way in which human language has been treated in evolutionary theory--by, among others, Darwin, Chomsky, and Everett. Wolfe's discussion of Everett's field work with the Piraha is not to be missed.

While The Kingdom of Speech is
...more
Bob Kohn
Jul 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Tom Wolfe one day stumbled across a 2014 essay by eight "heavyweight Evolutionists," the famed-linguist Noam Chomsky being notability among them, and was startled by their conclusion that, after 150 years of scientific research and academic speculation, what we know about speech and language remains "as mysterious as ever." A "poverty of evidence," they wrote, leaves us with "no explanation of how and why our linguistic computations and representations evolved."

Wolfe looked askance at this
...more
Maxwell Hansen
Sep 07, 2016 rated it did not like it
Maybe Tom Wolfe should be commended for diving headfirst into a complicated, even esoteric, debate raging inside linguistics and exposing it to a far larger audience than ever before. But praise for this book should really end there.

As someone with some formal training in linguistics and more extensive exploration of the field as a hobby, I read Wolfe's prose in the voice of a supremely confident, almost entirely uninformed brat. In dealing with the fraught, hotly debated question of the origin
...more
Mark
Sep 03, 2016 rated it did not like it
I normally enjoy Tom Wolfe, but this takedown of modern linguistics is simply a rant. His "new journalism" style was completely unsuited to persuading me of the validity of some of his rather specious scientific arguments. Despite the fairly copious footnotes, there was little evidence that Wolfe's understanding of either evolution or linguistics had any depth.
Lukas Evan
Sep 02, 2016 rated it did not like it
Tom Wolfe tries to take down Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky with baffling (and terrible) results. Alternate title: "The Wrong Stuff."
William
Sep 05, 2016 rated it liked it
This book forms a loose trilogy with "The Painted Word," Wolfe's dissection of art and art criticism, and "From Bauhaus to Our House," his similar evisceration of architectural theory. This book is different in that Wolfe has ventured into scientific theory - or actually, holy writ, i.e. Darwinian evolutionary theory. Those two books also dealt with a smaller topic - the conflict between American independent thought and the tendency of American intellectuals to follow European "isms," one of ...more
Mikey B.
I generally enjoy Tom Wolfe, but this is an exception.

This is a diatribe, a rant.

He goes after two, I feel, very, unrelated individuals – Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky.

Wolfe’s main theme is language – the premise being that this distinguishes us(humans) from all others on the planet. I have no argument with this.

He blasts Darwin for not acknowledging this. But Darwin was a naturalist. He was not a speech linguistic researcher. Was Wolfe trying to discredit evolution? This seems a tall order.

...more
Jake McAtee
Apr 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5. Wolfe demonstrates how Speech is the silver bullet for Darwinism. He shows that Chuck D himself felt it then, and how Chomsky grants it today. The disrespect is delicious.
MundiNova
Sep 16, 2016 rated it did not like it
Imagine you're at a party and off in the corner is an enigmatic man dressed in white talking to a large group. He has them eating out of his hand as he loudly, and drunkenly, has a one sided debate about language, Darwinism, and his own wit.

From your view across the room, you're uncertain about this man. But as you get closer - out of curiosity, of course - you listen in and can't help but find him mildly entertaining. Maybe you'll listen a little more. His story takes form as David vs. Goliath
...more
Rex Fuller
Dec 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Surprisingly, for me at least, Wolfe careens between wildly engaging works, think Bonfire of the Vanities, to the near tears boredom inducing, A Man in Full. This one you figure, try it, maybe? Well...!

He first takes on no less than the god Darwin. He makes two basic points. One, Darwin may have stolen his theory of evolution (Alfred Russell Wallace beat Darwin to the theory of natural selection and sent his paper to Darwin for review). And two, speech—not evolution—is responsible for humanity's
...more
Brendan
Sep 08, 2016 rated it did not like it
This book is, simply put, the heresy of an uneducated washed-up author. Wolfe's logic is completely lacking and shows how not arrive at a theory through proper scientific method. He makes several claims in the book that show how uneducated he is. This is not because he disagrees with the standard theory, but because his arguments consist of claiming there is no proof. A senior highschool student could come up with stronger arguments FOR his claims. This is the type of rhetoric that damages the ...more
Don
Nov 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
I normally would give this a 4 star rating, but I noticed there are a lot of pained 1 star reviews, so I upped my rating to a 5 to bring back some balance to the total average.

Wolfe is generally in good standing with the liberal defenders of evolution who are for the most part all for his criticism of investment bankers (The Bonfire of the Vanities) or big business (A Man in Full). When he decided to tear down liberal icons Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky, the reaction has been less than kind.

...more
Rock
Sep 27, 2016 rated it it was ok
Depending on how much Wolfe's writing style irritates you, most of this book is a readable but disjointed and superficial narrative trying but mostly failing to connect two largely separate fields. Combining the vagueness of informal language with the pomposity of formal language, Wolfe's style is grating and awkward for non-fiction writing, but this book is short enough that it didn't accumulate into intolerable for me. The text, while clearly under-researched, still touches on enough important ...more
Larry
Sep 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Wonderful to have Tom Wolfe back and setting fire to sacred cows. This is a bit like his classic attacks on pretentious flim flammery From Bauhaus to Our House and The Painted Word but it also shares a lot of characteristics with snappy popular history like The Right Stuff or even popular science histories like Longitude. The language is crackling and playful throughout, even more so than his usual in order to make a "the medium is the message" point about the subject of the book. Thoroughly ...more
Ashley
Oct 07, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Tom Wolfe wrote a book on a subject where he has no knowledge. He also appears unable to meaningfully back/cite/logically argue any of his lofty claims. This is one of the worst books I've ever read. I hated his writing style which came across as pompous, over confident, and rude. He also used way too many ellipses and said "solar plexus" an unreasonable number of times in such a short book. This book is poorly argued, makes no sense, and is generally extremely annoying. Another key shortfall: ...more
Nathan
May 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is a Chestertonian take-down of Darwin and Chomsky. Excellent. Very fun.
Venessa
Jun 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Watch for my review in an upcoming issue of Library Journal!
Joshua
Oct 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: cultural-studies
Five stars for making fun of Darwin (for the despicable way he double-crossed Alfred Wallace) and Chompsky (for being an armchair intellectual nincompoop). (I mean, these gods are worshipped so devotedly so as to make you ill). Hearing Darwin's little tree of life sketch being described as 'abortive' makes me laugh even now, because my lecturers were so sanctimonious about it in class... I laughed so much that I don't think I'll ever be able to read anything by those two too seriously (actually, ...more
Asher Littlefield
Jan 09, 2018 rated it did not like it
It had its funny parts and interesting moments, but it barely seemed to touch the topic of speech, spending the first half on evolution’s history, the second on the wars over language, and the last chapter focused on speech. Most troublesome of all, Wolfe acted like an annoyed child each time he had to “correct” himself with the “new politically correct” terms for indigenous people, making it partway through the word “native” EVERY TIME. It was obnoxious.
Valerie Kyriosity
Dec 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
I was scrolling through thousands of my library's digital offerings when I saw this and thought, "Hmmm...I've never read any Tom Wolfe; maybe I should give him a try." I now want to read everything he's written. He's got a remarkable gift with words, so it is not remarkable that he would turn is attention in this book to the subject of how we got them. First, he rounds up the usual emperors in their usual new clothes, parades them before us, and pokes them with sticks that wouldn't hurt so bad ...more
Jeremy
Aug 30, 2016 marked it as to-read
Humorous NYT review here: "[T]his book is a rebuke of the work of the linguist Noam Chomsky, whom Mr. Wolfe refers to as 'Noam Charisma.' Rebuke is actually too frivolous a word for the contumely Mr. Wolfe looses in his direction. More precisely, he tars and feathers Mr. Chomsky before sticking a clown nose on his face and rolling him in a baby stroller off a cliff."

See here for comments on the kudzu of "settled science," and see here for Cheaney's article on how "Darwinism hasn't been able to
...more
Rachel Moyes
Oct 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
But what even is the point of this book?

I didn't read the synopsis before I started. I figured from the title that I would be interested. The whole time, I thought, "What is the thesis of this book?" What I settled upon was that maybe Wolfe was trying to use the interpersonal conflicts of those involved to partially explain why all the linguists and evolutionist and psychologists couldn't explain language even 150 years later?

But no, that wasn't even it. He was just telling interesting stories
...more
Corey
Apr 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
I'd forgotten what a rambunctious, eloquent, mentally-arresting writer Tom Wolfe is. And here he's thumbing his nose at one of modernity's most sacred Golden Cows: the Theory of Everything. Of all the nerve.

Well worth reading, if only for the part where Darwin's work is praised as more imaginative than Kipling's. I was almost in tears.
Donal
Sep 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
If you have always been suspicious of the Chomsky hagiography gang, you will enjoy this book. If you are or were part of the gang, you should probably read it.
Tyler Jones
Nov 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science, linguistics
I thought the first few chapters about how Darwin was forced to rush out his theory of evolution through natural selection were really great, probably because the story was new to me. Wolfe kept his own point of view largely in the background, but his assertions that the British class structure kept a middle-class working naturalist, Alfred Wallace, from getting proper recognition seem plausible to me.

The book started to fall apart when it jumped forward almost a century, and Wolfe tries to
...more
Heather
Jun 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
I picked this up because I saw that Tom Wolfe had died, and I'd never read anything of his. This was the first to come available at the library.

Not only was it so good that I want to read more from Wolfe, but for the first time I was really interested in reading about Darwin and the linguistics of Chomsky (as opposed to just his stuff about politics). At one point I even stopped to say aloud, "Holy shit, this is so fascinating!"

I liked Wolf's sarcastic and funny writing style, and the way he
...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
How To Write An Amazing Speech 1 2 May 09, 2019 11:31PM  
Madison Mega-Mara...: #18 The Kingdom of Speech 1 4 Apr 08, 2017 03:25PM  
Madison Mega-Mara...: #42 The Kingdom of Speech 1 4 Oct 17, 2016 11:10AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle
  • Là-Bas (Down There)
  • The Fall of Richard Nixon: A Reporter Remembers Watergate
  • A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century
  • Contra Amazon
  • Complexity and Chaos
  • Oh, No!
  • Unauthorized Bread
  • The Big Money (U.S.A., #3)
  • Travels With Max:In Search of Steinbeck's America Fifty Years Later
  • Gipfelstürmer: Erzählung
  • Catcher in the Wry
  • The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence
  • Mr Laurel & Mr Hardy: An Affectionate Biography
  • Complexity and Chaos
  • Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil
  • The General: Charles De Gaulle And The France He Saved
  • Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets
See similar books…
1,880 followers
Wolfe was educated at Washington and Lee Universities and also at Yale, where he received a PhD in American studies.

Tom Wolfe spent his early days as a Washington Post beat reporter, where his free-association, onomatopoetic style would later become the trademark of New Journalism. In books such as The Electric Koolaid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, and The Bonfire of the Vanities, Wolfe delves into
...more
“To say that animals evolved into man is like saying that Carrara marble evolved into Michelangelo's David. Speech is what man pays homage to in every moment he can imagine.” 2 likes
“it consisted of sudden, uncontrollable vomiting and every sort of pain in his distended belly and bowels, every known belch, retch, heave, gas-pass, watery rush, and loathsome gush, plus foul wind erupting from one end of his digestive tract and foul sounds eructing grrrrekkk from the other.” 1 likes
More quotes…