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The Kingdom of Speech
by Tom Wolfe


Overview - The 40 best books of 2016 you must read immediately -- New York Post

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.  Read more...


 
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More About The Kingdom of Speech by Tom Wolfe
 
 
 
Overview
The 40 best books of 2016 you must read immediately -- New York Post

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 complex societies and achievements.

From Alfred Russel Wallace, the Englishman who beat Darwin to the theory of natural selection but later renounced it, and through the controversial work of modern-day anthropologist Daniel Everett, who defies the current wisdom that language is hard-wired in humans, Wolfe examines the solemn, long-faced, laugh-out-loud zig-zags of Darwinism, old and Neo, and finds it irrelevant here in the Kingdom of Speech.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780316404624
  • ISBN-10: 0316404624
  • Publisher: Little Brown and Company
  • Publish Date: August 2016
  • Page Count: 192
  • Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.75 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Social Science > Anthropology - General
Books > Language Arts & Disciplines > Speech
Books > Science > Life Sciences - Evolution

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2016-07-11
  • Reviewer: Staff

Wolfe (Back to Blood), who began his career as a journalist, delivers his first nonfiction book in 16 years. In lively, irreverent, and witty prose, he argues that speech, not evolution, sets humans apart from animals and is responsible for all of humankind’s complex achievements. Speech, Wolfe explains, was the “first artifact,” the first instance where people took elements from nature—sounds—and turned them into something completely constructed. Wolfe evaluates the theories of the early evolutionists, such as Charles Darwin; self-taught British naturalist Alfred Wallace; and present-day linguists, psychologists, and anthropologists who, despite 150 years of effort, still struggle to understand how language evolved. Zeroing in on two scientific rivalries that pit an outsider against the establishment, Wolfe slyly skewers Darwin for grabbing all the glory from Wallace for the theory of evolution, and Noam Chomsky for ignoring, yet later tacitly acknowledging, fellow linguist Daniel Everett, who disagreed with Chomsky’s theory that language, in all its complexity, is hardwired in humans. Everett spent 30 years studying the Pirahãs, an isolated tribe in the Amazon basin, whose language revealed no conception of past or future, and no comprehension of numbers. Wolfe is at his best when portraying the lives of the scientists and their respective eras, and his vibrant study manages to be clever, funny, serious, satirical, and instructive. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit. (Sept.)

 
BookPage Reviews

How language makes us human

In his typically colorful and entertaining style, Tom Wolfe brooks no argument as he boldly declares in The Kingdom of Speech that language is the attribute that distinguishes humans from animals. Speech, he proclaims in the book’s opening pages, is “the attribute of all attributes and is 95 percent plus of what lifts man above animal!”

Wolfe arrives at his conclusion after a whirlwind tour of the development of evolutionary theory. Darwin, Wolfe points out, fails to provide in The Origin of Species any clues to the way that natural selection explains the development of language. Wolfe humorously observes that “mildly negative reviews of his book hit [Darwin] like body blows, and the fierce ones cut him through to the gizzard.” 

Wolfe points out that in the 19th century, Max Müller and Alfred Russel Wallace challenged Darwin on the subject of language and natural selection, with Müller contending that language elevates animals in the fullest way. Although Darwin attempts to explain the rise of language as a part of the evolutionary process in The Descent of Man, he fails miserably, according to Wolfe, and, as a result, “in the entire debate over the Evolution of man—language—was abandoned, thrown down the memory hole, from 1872-1949.”

Linguist Noam Chomsky—whom Wolfe calls “Noam Charisma”—rides in on his semantic white horse, introducing “universal grammar,” with which every child is born. Through his field studies with a small tribe in Brazil, one of Chomsky’s students, David Everett, concludes that speech is an artifact and explains “man’s power over all other creatures in a way Evolution all by itself can’t begin to.”

In the end, Wolfe declares that speech will soon be recognized as the “Fourth Kingdom of the Earth” alongside the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms.

Stimulating, clever and witty, Wolfe’s little book is sure to provoke discussion about the role language plays in making us human.

 

This article was originally published in the September 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 
BAM Customer Reviews