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The Kingdom of Speech

Cover of The Kingdom of Speech

The Kingdom of Speech

by Tom Wolfe
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.
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.
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About the Author-
  • Tom Wolfe is the author of more than a dozen books, among them The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of the Vanities, A Man in Full, I Am Charlotte Simmons, and Back to Blood. A native of Richmond, Virginia, he earned his B.A. at Washington and Lee University and a Ph.D. in American Studies at Yale. He received the National Book Foundation's 2010 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in New York City.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    July 11, 2016
    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.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 5, 2016
    Wolfe stands as one of the towering literary figures of our era, who is known for his distinct style of writing. For a voice actor, conveying Wolfe’s blend of erudite intensity and sardonic wit presents quite a challenge, but Petkoff rises to the occasion. Wolfe’s thesis in this book centers on his belief that the theories of both Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky fail to account for how humans developed language. Petkoff manages to channel the bite of Wolfe’s narrative at every turn, as he declares winners and losers of this grand debate over how humans developed language. Admittedly, nonfiction social criticism in this format probably does not have a wide appeal, but Petkoff helps up the entertainment value for this type of project. A Little, Brown hardcover.

  • Charles C. Mann, Wall Street Journal The author's own prose is, as ever, a marvelous mix of gleeful energy and whip-around-the-neck control, and his book is a gas to read.
  • Caitlin Flanagan, New York Times Book Review ....a hundred years from now, the one whose work will still be read - whose work will remain imperishable in the face of any new discoveries - is Wolfe. In the long game, the kingdom belongs to him.
  • Harper's Bazaar Tom Wolfe aims his unparalleled wit at evolution, arguing that complex language is the singular superpower that allows humans to rule the planet.
  • James Sullivan, Boston Globe This being Tom Wolfe, the ponderous debate over language and evolution takes on a kind of pop-art pizzazz....A curiously entertaining little book.
  • Dwight Garner, New York Times Mr. Wolfe, now 85, shows no sign of mellowing. His new book, The Kingdom of Speech, is his boldest bit of dueling yet. It's a whooping, joy-filled and hyperbolic raid on, of all things, the theory of evolution....a provocation rather than a dissertation. The sound it makes is that of a lively mind having a very good time, and enjoying the scent of its own cold-brewed napalm in the morning.
  • Don Oldenburg, USA Today (Wolfe's) trademark rich reporting is unmistakable throughout.... he brings to this academic debate the same irreverence and entertaining quality that lit up Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.... You'll find here the same manic prose, the hip rhythms and cleverly crafted arguments of the genius Tom Wolfe. Which you must read.
  • Donna Seaman, Booklist In this mettlesome, slyly funny takedown, Wolfe spotlights two key scientific rivalries, each pitting a scrappy outsider against the academy....Wolfe's pithy and stirring play-by-play coverage of compelling lives and demanding science transforms our perception of speech....As always, white-suited Wolfe will be all over the media...stirring things up and sending readers to the shelves.
  • Kirkus Reviews A fresh look at an old controversy, as a master provocateur suggests that human language renders the theory of evolution more like a fable than scientific fact....Wolfe throws a Molotov cocktail at conventional wisdom in a book that won't settle any argument but is sure to start some.
  • Publishers Weekly In lively, irreverent, and witty prose, Wolfe argues that speech, not evolution, sets humans apart from animals and is responsible for all of humankind's complex achievements....Wolfe's vibrant study manages to be clever, funny, serious, satirical, and instructive.
  • Library Journal With his usual sharp wit and style, Wolfe's return to his roots is a thrilling journey into the who, what, where, when, why, and how of speech that will undoubtedly provoke stimulating conversations.
  • Nate Hopper, Time Wolfe, still a master at using language, is another claimant for the throne. The Kingdom of Speech is best read, then, with Wolfe not just as a narrator-historian but as a character. One who, after critiquing theorists who rule from insulated rooms, depicts himself in that exact setting for his book's final vision.
  • Henry L. Carrigan Jr., BookPage Stimulating, clever and witty, Wolfe's little book is sure to provoke discussion about the role language plays in making us human.
  • John McWhorter, Vox Barely a dull sentence.
  • Frank Wilson, Philadelphia Inquirer An entertaining and informative romp, thanks to Wolfe's patented stylistic hijinks. It may raise more questions than it answers, but that may well be its greatest virtue....very funny.
  • Clarke Crutchfield, Richmond Times-Dispatch Come for the big ideas, stay for the terrific stories. Wolfe's bracing and witty style redeems a subject that in other hands might have you hitting the snooze button.
  • Mark Lundy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Head-hopping nonfiction....slick narrative storytelling alongside heaps of documentary evidence.
  • new journalists The most savage and entertaining of all
  • Chris Knight, Counterpunch Linguistics is famously boring, but Tom Wolfe is fun....beautifully written.
  • Ina Hughs, Knoxville News Sentinel Wolfe doesn't mince words, and his comments are convincing and captivating.
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