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Simple and Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  240 ratings  ·  24 reviews

After a lifetime of writing and editing prose, Jacques Barzun has set down his view of the best ways to improve one's style. His discussions of diction, syntax, tone, meaning, composition, and revision guide the reader through the technique of making the written word clear and agreeable to read. Exercises, model passages both literary and casual, and hundreds of amusing ex

Paperback, 288 pages
Published December 18th 2001 by Harper Perennial (first published 1975)
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Average rating 3.92  · 
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Jul 14, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
To be honest I couldn't finish this. I'll try again another time. For a book on simple and direct writing it struck me as remarkably convoluted and flowery, not to mention snobbish. There are better style books out there.
Jul 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing
Funnily enough, I didn't find Barzun that great of a writer, although he certainly isn't a bad one. But the general thrust of his advice—write with a clear idea in mind, choose your words with care, don't overtax your reader—rings true. And it was humbling to discover that I have committed many of the literary gaffs of which he complains.
James Hold
Jun 08, 2019 rated it liked it
I've been revisiting some of the books that helped me get started. Simple & Direst offers a ton of useful advice, altho it's ain't necessarily the easiest book to get thru. ...more
Sep 28, 2015 rated it liked it
Some good take-always about things not to do, but a lot of this book felt stuffy and out-dated.
Mark Bailey
SIMPLE AND DIRECT is anything but.
Ray Edwards
Sep 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Oddly bloated for a book about simple writing.
Kaleb Horton
Stuff you already know, phrased lean and tough. Mechanically inspiring.
Christopher Rush
Jun 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
I feel somewhat abashed giving a book by the superb Jacques Barzun only two stars, but according to the authoritative site Goodreads (or "goodreads" as it wants to be known on its own page), two stars equates to "it was okay," and since Simple and Direct was okay, two stars it gets. I'm not really sure what the ultimate function of this book is: surely it's not a textbook for classroom use, as entire hordes of young people posing as students collectively work through revising sentences with dict ...more
May 13, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is simultaneously a radical call to arms for a “simple and direct” approach to all written language and an overwrought and pedantic style manual. It fails for me in both circumstances. I was hoping for something that taught “a rhetoric for writers” as an approach to writing itself, but instead I got a bloated Strunk & White. Every time you think he’s about to retreat to a macro level and get into something insightful, he drills back down into minutia that should be second hat to anyone ...more
Akhil Jain
Nov 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: glimpsed
- Every man has often found himself deficient in the power of expression, big with ideas which he could not utter, and unable to impress upon his reader the image existing in his own mind. —Dr. Johnson
- I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate to the left or right, the readers will most certainly go into it. —C. S. Lewis
- here and there a touch of good grammar for picturesqueness. —Mark Twain
Benoit Blanchon
May 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing
You need to be very good in English to get the most of this book.
In my case, there were many words that I wasn't able to understand.
Sure, I learned from this book, but not as much as I hoped.

The other problem with this book is that it doesn't give the answers to the exercises, but only hints, which doesn't allow learning by example.
Gail Richmond
Jul 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
A writers' guide to rhetoric first published in 1975, Barzun begins with fiction and covers most of the aspects of writing well: fiction; tone; audience; purpose; meaning; editing; and revision. Although some sections are dated, there is still valuable information included.
Sep 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Overall, the book is accessible, but challenging. The author knows of what he writes. Yes, it is a little dated; however there is an edition from 2001 which I didn't see. This book is particularly meant for any who write prose, whether fiction or non-fiction. The author presents a lengthy, meaty chapter along with some exercises for the reader to try. At the end of each chapter, he gives an example of good writing from a variety of sources. At the end is an index of words, topics, and authors.
Mar 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing-creative
Chosen because I attempted read Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence; his magnus opus on western civilization. Much like From Dawn defends western civilization’s splendor and value, Simple & Direct serves bulwark against bad writing. Barzun gives his take on diction, syntax, tone, meaning, composition, and revision to guide you like a college student through making your writing clear and pleasant to read. He also examples of bad writing and has a few soap box rants about the poor state of writing in ...more
Emily Giuffre
Sep 24, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: development
This book is anything BUT simple and direct. This was a very difficult read and even though the author gave examples of jargon, misplaced or misused words, and unnecessary phrases, I don't feel like a better writer for having read it. I would have preferred to have "before and after" examples of clearly edited essays. Not entirely a bad book....just not for the layman.
Aug 28, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: writing
This is a nice writing tutorial but not what I was looking for. Barzun takes a methodical approach, starting with words and working his way out to paragraphs and compositions. He includes writing and reading exercises, for practice. I would say it's pitched to undergraduate and graduate students.
Jan 26, 2011 is currently reading it
Very good so far
Graham Mumm
Jul 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Hard to read straight through (I suggest doing it lesson tip at a time) but overall a good guide to writing well.
Jacob Aitken
Mar 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Very useful tips. Shows how language "works." Some stuff you would find in any common grammar on the English language. Further, he doesn't always elaborate some of the tips.
Sarah Schultz
Apr 17, 2008 marked it as to-read
Helps with sentence structure. Good for post-graduates.
Mar 24, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lit
Simple & direct: A rhetoric for writers (A Cass Canfield book) by Jacques Barzun (1975) ...more
Dec 20, 2011 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
rec'd by tim ferriss -> ...more
Scott Harris
Aug 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
No nonsense guide on writing and writing elegantly.
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Apr 25, 2017
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Jun 22, 2014
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Jun 09, 2014
Amy Koerber
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Jan 11, 2015
Wesley Yu
rated it it was amazing
Feb 14, 2015
S.m. Bucklin
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May 27, 2013
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Jacques Martin Barzun was a French-born American historian of ideas and culture.

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