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The Kingdom of Speech

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  1,341 ratings  ·  326 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
Kindle Edition, 192 pages
Published August 30th 2016 by Little, Brown and Company (first published 2016)
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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)
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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 Da
Jason Merchant
Sep 03, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 evolutio
L.A. Starks
May 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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  ·  review of another edition

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 founde
Bob Kohn
Jul 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 concl
Maxwell Hansen
Sep 07, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 03, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Tom Wolfe tries to take down Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky with baffling (and terrible) results. Alternate title: "The Wrong Stuff."
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.

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 Wol ...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.
Sep 16, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Rex Fuller
Dec 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 08, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 p ...more
Nov 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.

May 21, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
Apesar da escrita de Wolfe ser envolvente, fluída e do assunto abordado me interessar bastante, achei a abordagem superficial e apressada no último terço do livro. o autor deu bastante ênfase no trabalho de Darwin e na sua dificuldade de explicar a origem da linguagem nos seres humanos - a mim ocorreu a ideia de que Darwin não queria cometer mais esta heresia, mexendo com a afirmação poderosa que abre o Evangelho de João - e depois se apressa para finalizar o livro, entrando nas explicações chom ...more
Mi è piaciuto in questo libro come è stato strutturato il discorso sulla ricerca dell'origine del linguaggio. In pratica l'autore mette a confronto teorie parallele che si sviluppano in due periodi storici diversi: nel XIX e XX, XXI secolo.
Inizialmente il periodo degli studi compiuti da Charles Darwin e Alfred R. Wallace, successivamente tra le teorie opposte di Noam Chomsky e Daniel L. Everett.
I primi di ciascuna coppia appartengono all'intellighenzia scientifica del proprio tempo, i secondi so
Sep 27, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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: s ...more
May 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a Chestertonian take-down of Darwin and Chomsky. Excellent. Very fun.
Jun 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Watch for my review in an upcoming issue of Library Journal!
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  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: اللغات
هذا الكتاب للمهتم بتاريخ اللسانيات ونشوء اللغة. ليس كتابا علميا بالمعنى المفهوم، إنما موجه للقارئ العام. والكاتب أسلوبه ممتع جدا، وله قراءته الخاصة للأحداث التي يرويها، وهي قراءة معتمدة على المصادر المعتبرة.
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 i ...more
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 e
Rachel Moyes
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 t
Sep 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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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
“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
“If a monkey has become a man—what may not a man become?” 1 likes
More quotes…