The Kingdom of Speech

The Kingdom of Speech

Book - 2016
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"Taking readers on a rollicking ride through history, a master storyteller and reporter, whose legend began in journalism, presents a paradigm-shifting argument that speech, not evolution, is responsible for humanity's complex societies and achievements"--NoveList.
"Before Tom Wolfe was a bestselling novelist, he was a groundbreaking journalist. Now the maestro storyteller turns his attention to the mystery behind the creation of his own most important tool: language. In The Kingdom of Speech, Wolfe makes the captivating, paradigm-shifting argument that speech--not evolution--is responsible for humanity's complex societies and achievements. From Alfred Russel Wallace, the self-taught Englishman who beat Charles Darwin to the theory of natural selection but later renounced it for its inability to explain human speech, to the neo-Darwinists, who for years argued that there is a language 'organ' in the human brain, Wolfe examines how science has repeatedly tried and failed to account for man's gift of gab. Flash forward to the present day and the controversial work of another outsider, anthropologist Daniel Everett. After thirty years of studying a tribe isolated deep in the jungles of the Amazon, Everett revealed a people whose prehistoric level of speech had led to a society without religion, ceremonies, hierarchies, marriage, or ornaments, and without the ability to plan ahead or to consider a past beyond personal lifetimes, thus defying the current wisdom that language is hardwired in humans. With trenchant wit and uproarious humor, Wolfe cracks open the secretive, solemn, long-faced, laugh-out-loud zigzags of Darwinism, both old and neo-, and he shows the endless importance of the courageous outsider in overturning our most cherished ideas about ourselves. Provocative and fast-paced, Wolfe's latest tour de force will have everyone talking."--Dust jacket.
Publisher: New York : Little, Brown and Company, 2016.
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780316404624
Branch Call Number: 306.44 WOLFE
Characteristics: 185 pages ; 22 cm.


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May 17, 2018

For a book about language, the anonymous reviewer of Library Journal should learn how to write. In their excerpt, there are six sentences in a row that start with a subordinate clause. That's just lazy writing. Fortunately, I think Wolfe's writing will be much better.

Oct 06, 2016

Skewering both Darwin and Chomsky, both of whom deserve it, Wolfe applies his acerbic and funny wit to their self-vaunted theories. Recommended.

Oct 05, 2016

A brief book that is not so much about Speech as it is about toppling false prophets. We learn a great deal about the intrigue that made Darwin the historic personality he is while keeping the lowly “fly catcher” Wallace in semi-obscurity. One hundred fifty years later, a somewhat parallel story develops between Noam Chomsky, the false prophet of speech evolution and Daniel Everett, the new “fly catcher” that (unlike Wallace) opposes the false prophet and begins the process of toppling him. Chomsky’s dogma captured on tens of thousands of pages or more and his cultural clout still holds as of today due to an army of followers built over decades and dependent on this dogma. But the damage has been done: Everett with one single study on the Piraha people has invalidated Chomsky’s conclusions.

Tom Wolfe’s irony cuts merciless into the dearest beliefs of the Evolutionary myth:

We learn about the parallels between the evolution myth and Native American Creation myths. Yes, Evolution is nothing more than a Creation myth.
“…the littlest creature (or “four or five” of them)…” points out the absurdity of this claim. Why one? Why four or five? Why make this utterly unsupported claim?
Evolution is Cosmogony myth and not Science as the theory fails all five tests for scientific hypothesis: Observed? Replicated? Falsifiable? Predictive power? Illuminates other areas of science? “In the case of Evolution…well…no…no…no…no…and no”.
Darwin’s “Just So Stories”, and “my dog” argument, especially in “The Descent of Man”.
Dobzhansky’s synthesis of moribund Evolution theory with Genetics to revive the former, and his too categorical claim that “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution”.
Chomsky’s 2014 statement that “The evolution of the faculty of language largely remains an enigma” after decades of “knowing” language down to the math.
Language is important of course, and perhaps even “the most powerful tool invented by people, not innate and not biologically evolved” as the author concludes, but more important Take-Aways are the doubts cast on the very sacred and very inflexible, and ultimately very unscientific beliefs of the Evolution supporters. Furthermore, the amount of supporting literature and time passage have built an imposing structure around the concept of Evolution, but this structure rests on a very flimsy base at best and will likely come crumbling down sooner or later – the higher the structure, the more spectacular its demise.

Sep 16, 2016

The aging, yet still dapper Duke of New Journalism has apparently lost his in mind in this new non-fiction book. I have no idea what prompted Tom Wolfe, the celebrated, if divisive, author of "The Right Stuff" and "The Bonfire of the Vanities," to write this tirade against Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky. Who thinks, hey, that Darwin needs to be taken down a peg? Chomsky, maybe, but I think his linguistic theories, which Wolfe assaults, are hardly known out of a small coterie. He's better known for his politics, but, again, he's not a household name. Language is the common theme and Wolfe gleefully lambastes evolutionists and linguistics failure to offer up a cohesive theory. What could be considered wide-ranging to me seems like rambling and a complete lack of focus. Again, I haven't a clue what possessed him to take up his literary cudgel, but it makes him seem shrill, irrelevant, and dangerously out of touch. Whom does he imagine his audience is? I've liked some of Wolfe's work in the past, but this is a disaster.


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