Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

Musings about language, books, grammar, and writing in general

Review: The Kingdom of Speech, by Tom Wolfe

Most folks I know consider Tom Wolfe a pop culture writer, but forget that he was primarily associated with what has been called the New Journalism. That’s a shame because Wolfe is one of the most engaging authors I have recently read.

My mom was a big Tom Wolfe fan, but I somehow missed reading the books he is most known for (or any of his other works, for that matter). This is a lacuna that I want to correct as soon as possible.

Wolfe is, above all, engaging. While fact-filled, <i>The Kingdom of Speech</i> goes rollicking along like one of the best novels. Wolfe’s tone is casual and invites you to play. The audiobook of this has an excellent reader in Robert Petkoff, who makes even the footnotes sound lively and intriguing. The book reads so well that, in fact, I had to check several times to assure myself that this was non-fiction.

This is a book for anyone who loves language. It doesn’t analyze speech, per se, but is a survey of the development of speech. The book starts with Wolfe reading an article by eight highly qualified evolutionists (including Noam Chomsky) stating that they have, after over a century, given up on determining where speech comes from. This piques Wolfe’s interest, and he begins researching what led these scientists to this conclusion. The journey is fascinating, and I came away with a whole new understanding of how it is speech that drives societies and achievements.

This is definitely a book for those who enjoy learning about other viewpoints, and who also enjoy learning about the infighting that often accompanies new theories. It’s also for those who like a fun read along the way.

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