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The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure

2.81  ·  Rating details ·  677 ratings  ·  118 reviews
Read Catherine Blyth's posts on the Penguin Blog.

A wide-ranging, exhortatory look at the pleasures of great conversation, including strategies for how to bring it about, from the witty pen of an Englishwoman wise in its ways

In The Art of Conversation, Catherine Blyth eloquently points out the sorry state of disrepair that conversation has fallen into—and then, taking ex
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published December 26th 2008 by Gotham (first published January 1st 2008)
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Bookworm Amir
Apr 10, 2012 rated it did not like it
Surprisingly, a book about conversation - it itself fails to talk well.

Blame on the editor, or the general structuring of the topics - the ideas are everywhere.

I could have just read the first page, where she summarizes what makes a conversation work, and the last few pages where it wraps out, in a matter of short, pitiful sentences, the 'art of conversation'.

I don't think I have learnt anything new by reading from this - at all.

Most darnedest of all is the language of the author - who does s
Oct 04, 2009 rated it did not like it
It just didn't read well. It came off as the author telling me 'Look, I'm so clever' She had too many quotes from famous people and cute stories, and she didn't make her points clearly.
Finally, the pointless flings at children with special needs would not be considered polite in any conversation-here is just one: "Attention deficit disorder- formerly known as annoying brat syndrome, is a clumsy term for a pervasive social blight: bad listening."
I skimmed the last 2/3 of the book, in hope there w
Jaclyn Woods
This book had good content, and I especially enjoyed the numbered ideas of what to do in difficult conversational situations. Unfortunately, the whole book was brought down for me by its tone. The writing was excessively self-deprecating, mentioning numerous times that the author found herself failing in conversation, and then didn't offer much information as she went along to redeem my perception of her capabilities. This led me to have a lack of faith in the author as an expert on the topic.

Anna White
Proceeds with a laudable goal, but, like a poor conversationalist or poetry critic, this book is perhaps a bit too clever for its own good, an impression created through excessive quotation and unduly ornate language. Redeemed somewhat by being a fast read, presenting a decent defense of small talk, and being somewhat forgiven on the grounds of being British (perhaps I'm merely a brash American who uncharitably sees insincerity where tact is intended...).
Feb 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
I read this book with three points of view in mind: the first being an intent to make social media better (as that is what I'm paid to do), the second being that I am a naturally introverted person who can always use a few pointers, and the third, as a writer looking for ways to improve my characters' dialogues.

Ms. Blythe gives us a book chock full of information. I found it all very interesting and it gave me a lot to think about in terms of how people communicate today. I'm not as down on tec

THE GOOD: Globalization and our culture is forcing us to communicate in ways that involve less face-to-face conversations than ever. Consequently, the art of conversation is quickly disappearing. While many teens and young adults become proficient in texting, e-mail, and facebooking, we seem to be losing an art that was once vastly enjoyed. In this book, by Catherine Blyth, the author tries to give us tips to make us better conversationalists. While I did enjoy some points and chapters at the be
BreAnna Hutchinson
Jun 03, 2014 rated it did not like it
Ok, so I didn't actually finish reading this one, but I just couldn't. It was so dull and terribly written in my opinion. There was only a small thread that attempted to tie together all the chapters, but really it was just a ramble by the author about various thoughts and quotes pertaining to conversing. "A Guided Tour" it was not. At first I thought the meandering was intentional, to simulate what happens in actual conversation as thoughts come and topics wander. But in actual conversation, yo ...more
Valerie Kyriosity
Two problems—one the author's, one mine:

When you don't build a book of advice re the use of the tongue on the foundational principle of loving one's neighbor, even on some truncated secular version thereof, you're going to end up with shoddy architecture, indeed.

There are some people who can read and sufficiently synthesize technical manuals that the information therein remains useful when application becomes necessary. I am not such a person. Or else it is a discipline I have never learned, but
Kathryn Bashaar
Nov 07, 2009 rated it did not like it
Terrible. Couldn't get past page 30. Completely disorganized writing style, clunky sentences, one random non-sequiter after another. And why the hell is the word "reconfigured" on quotation marks on page 14?
Feb 16, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: skillz
A book that has me pulled in two directions: on the one hand, I think it has some really good content, but on the other hand, it is an uphill read.

Regarding the content, the book is first rate, as Blyth presents good guidance on navigating conversation. The "rules" in each chapter are made explicit and given a good foundational context immediately following each rule. Plenty of anecdotes and wordplay abound, making what would seem like boring bit of etiquette fun to explore. Also, the bibliograp
Mar 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
I spent a good deal of my life being quiet, and preferring not to speak unless I had something to say, so it caught my eye when I saw someone dedicate a book on conversation. Although, the author artfully depicts certain situations and characters that come up which set the tone for each conversation, I found it hard to maintain attention. I found all the roundabout British humor distracting, and as an American I like things direct. However, I do think it a worthwhile read for those who have main ...more
Aug 03, 2020 rated it did not like it
Hard work as badly put together and very boring
Mar 08, 2013 rated it did not like it
"Walk into any bar or internet cafe and you'd think conversation is going out of style"
Regrettably, I judged the whole book by that only slightly funny one line, and bought the damn thing, and have regretted it ever since. It is an insipid, idiotic book built entirely on the premise that our wills have been bent to the evils of technology and that we have all but ripped off the arteries of the English language with all the "brb's" we send on text. It reads as something written by an egotistical
Aug 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
For someone who wants us to talk to each other more, Blyth certainly doesn't seem to have a high opinion of her interlocutors. In rafting and kayaking there's something called "positive point": you don't point to the big rock, but the direction you want your co-rafters to go. The same would be useful here. Blyth's commonplace book of conversational anecdotes, both ancient and modern, keeps confusing rules, exceptions and bad examples. While it's fun to have a list of cruel snappy comebacks or ca ...more
Sally George
I found the book really heavy going but was determined to finish it. Here is an example "This stupefyingly infantile compound item pairs an aspect of the aggressors physiognomy or personality with an unthreatening adjective to form an absurd epithet (alliterative or rhyming for extra impact)". The parts I could understand were interesting. I particularly liked a quote when discussing the fact that the social knit of office life is riven with power imbalances.... "In my department, there are six ...more
Christine Beverly
Jun 20, 2016 rated it did not like it
Ok--I'm cheating to say that I "finished" this book. I'm giving up on it. Frankly, it's too much work to read, and the main points it makes regarding things like humor, boredom, and lying are kind of obvious. The book jumps from "Rules" that aren't all really rules--more like observations--to sections between and after them where the type obviously changes, but it's unclear sometimes why the sections are there at all or why they are in THAT place. I did enjoy all the literary references made to ...more
Jun 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Every so often I read a book and decide to refer to it as a guide. The Art of Conversation is definitely one of them. Blyth explains why we have conversations and offers some 'tactics' in many situations. Its' simple yet effective anecdotes are in fact guides on conversation. The examples used are meaningful and interesting. Her book is filled with humour, kindness and wit. The author certainly dedicated years of research for this book. It is a fabulous book. I would love to have a conversation ...more
Deane Barker
May 11, 2018 rated it liked it
I shouldn't have finished this. The author's writing style bugged me.

I did like how the book is organized -- a chapter for each different aspect of conversation, each with a set of "Rules" -- but she kills the momentum with her writing. She'll never use a simple word where a complex one will do, and she goes overboard on a flowery, literary style.

This book could have been straightforward, to-the-point, and helpful. Instead, it seemed to be an exercise in how much the author could impress herself
Feb 26, 2016 rated it liked it
Taking an interesting journey through philosophy and literature and using film stars and historic figures as examples, if you enjoy British witt this book will 'have you at hello.'

While the writing felt unorganized, choppy, and sometimes hard to follow there were gems of hilarity sprinkled throughout as the author explored the decline of conversations in our culture.

In summary, I need a witty British friend.
Joel Siege
Apr 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Other than the author's staggering bombast in her choice of vocabulary and sometimes obscure imagery, this is a rather fascinating read. The insights offered are rich and delivered in a manner that makes you smack yourself in the head for not having known about them sooner.
Mar 24, 2010 rated it did not like it
The first book I ever returned to the store... after 30 pages! Reads too much like a US Weekly article.
brian tanabe
May 25, 2010 rated it it was ok
I'm still not sure whether to take this book seriously or not.
Aug 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
She knows what she's talking about. Problem is people don't listen anymore :)
Apr 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audio-versions
I'd converse with her anytime, but the audio of her message was a bit tough to chew on (somewhat scattery)
May 08, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Ugh the tone is all over the place, she has numerous quotes and anecdotes and many of them aren’t really relevant and it feels like padding and/or name dropping —showing off in poor taste. I struggled through the introduction and she’s not someone I’d want “have a beer with”. I felt like rolling my eyes. I did not enjoy when she talked about herself.

I’ve had this book for a good while, I was so looking forward to it and I thought it would be nice accompaniment to my other Language/linguistics bo
Jordan Botta
Jun 05, 2019 rated it it was ok
The book itself is filled with some interesting concepts that may be helpful to someone struggling with conversation. However it’s so obfuscated with dry wit and confusing diction that you never know if the author is serious. It weaves back and forth between serious, palatable advice and self-depreciating humor that I don’t know what to take seriously. While it is filled with anecdotal and historical information, I would steer away from it if you’re looking to seriously improve your conversation ...more
Jan 02, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I couldn’t finish it! I gave up after reading 2/3 of it.
A. Her British words all over. I had to have a dictionary by my side and wasted time looking for word definitions. Tiresome!
B. Long sentences with many commas inside. They spin your mind taking you from one idea to another and then back to the original without finishing anything. Tiresome!
C. As I was reading, often I had to ask myself: is she for or against this practice/concept/idea? Very convoluted!
D. Very little for applications to you
Cassandra Galley
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A lot of people are citing that the style of writing brought down the book. Although I will admit there are too many quotations from famous people reading the book felt flowy and casual like a good conversation. Although I’ve just finished it I’ve already put what I’ve learned to use and have been offered something significant for free from a stranger. Gaining this practical knowledge will certainly open doors for me
Lee Gabel
May 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Justin Gaynor
Aug 11, 2017 rated it liked it
The authors use of language and imagery was fascinating, while still maintaining quaint English humor. Some of the thoughts concerning shop talk and turning tables where delightfully humorous. The focus on drawing people into conversation in order to revitalize and stimulate relationships that are
fun and interesting was both refreshing and a challenge to step to.
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