This is new explanatory language book about grammar but more so, usage. It’s written and in the audiobook read (to good effect) by Benjamin Dreyer, a copyeditor for Random House and prolific Twitter user. If you don’t know him, you might recall his call for editors to tweet about their specific pet peeves that led to a fun and playfully controversially list a few years back.
He begins the book with a set of caveats about how this book is neither authoritative nor exhaustive, explaining his role as a copyeditor to burnish and polish already existing prose for clarity and succinctness, and what rules, methods, and considerations go into his work. It’s also a history of a specific kind of publishing. And as a high school English teacher, he gave me some ideas for how to approach student writing, a listing of many good resources, and very solid examples I could use in the classroom. However, his playful raunchiness at times and use of political examples means you probably couldn’t assign the book outright in a secondary classroom.
What stands out to me as best in this book is his approach that is guided by an ethos, rather than prescriptive set of rules. If your goal is to help language achieve its ends in most forms of writing (and he has a section for fiction that makes a lot of sense too), to communicate ideas to an audience, then looking for every possible way to find those paths to clarity make sense. He has rules and principles, but he also challenges arbitrary or out-dated rules. He also believes in the power of words that have very specific meanings (especially with the danger of many of those words being muted, softened, or erased through misuse). It’s a very enjoyable book to read if you like thinking and talking about language, and his way of describing pet peeves (which don’t automatically mean you’re right) is a lot of fun.