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Book Review: Elements of Style

The Elements of Style (Fourth Edition)The Elements of Style

by William Strunk, Jr.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was originally published in the 1930’s and after 49 editions, is still one of the best selling books about writing. It covers all the basics in 95 concise pages, in a book small enough to fit in a pocket. Reviews say things like, “No book in shorter space, with fewer words, will help any writer more than this persistent little volume.” “…should be the daily companion of anyone who writes for a living and, for that matter, anyone who writes at all.”

It has competitors. Consider:

  • Garner’s Modern American Usage
  • Bernstein’s The Careful Writer
  • Jack Hart’s A Writers Coach

…but still, Strunk and White is the most famous, most oft-quoted, most consistently recommended of any. Amazon ranks it #1 in writing skills, #1 in grammar and #9 in reference. It’s the 555th most popular book on the entire site.

Why is that?

Look at the Table of Contents:

  • Elementary Rules of Usage, which lists eleven rules–the eleven most relevant to writers
  • Elementary Principles of Composition–This includes eleven also, with items like use the active voice, put statements in positive form, omit needless words. Great suggestions. Often, these are the mistakes writers make
  • A Few Matters of Form, which includes colloquialisms, headings, hyphens, numbers
  • Words and Expressions Commonly Misused--twenty-seven pages of words like aggravate/irritate, among/between, farther/further
  • An Approach to Style With a List of Reminders–hints like Do not overwrite, avoid fancy words, don not affect a breezy manner, do not over-explain

Did you notice? Although these were considered important rules in the 1930’s and are the same issues faced by writers today. Maybe that’s why it’s still one of the best-selling, most popular books ever.

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14 thoughts on “Book Review: Elements of Style

  1. Hi, Jacqui! I kept my original copy of Elements of Style since college (30+++ years), and I went to grab it to take a picture for you and to also look through it again for my own improvement. But now I can’t find the book, and after searching for nearly an hour, I decided that I needed to get back to today’s agenda. I’m really frustrated, though, because your post reminded me how great that little was/is. I’m sure I’ll find it soon (probably when I move again in May). Hope you’ve had a good week!

    • I’d love to see that cover. It’s amazing that the rules are the same and everyone continues to make the same mistakes, isn’t it? Thanks for thinking of me. One more week until you hear!

  2. I can’t believe I haven’t read this yet. It’s one of those books that was so present in my home (as a child of artists/writers) that it practically grew there among the floorboards, a fixture assured but never questioned. I will make a point to read Elements of Style soon!

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