Monday, January 4, 2010

Concise writing is usually clear writing (10) – Lewis Thomas, “Biology Watcher”

Here’s another great example of clear, concise writing. It’s from The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher, by the physician and professor Lewis Thomas (1913-1993).*

The book is a collection of 29 essays. The author’s style is clear, remarkably concise, and surprisingly entertaining.

Here are the first two paragraphs of the first essay:

“We are told that the trouble with Modern Man is that he has been trying to detach himself from nature. He sits in the topmost tiers of polymer, glass, and steel, dangling his pulsing legs, surveying at a distance the writhing life of the planet. In this scenario, Man comes on as a stupendous lethal force, and the earth is pictured as something delicate, like rising bubbles at the surface of a country pond, or flights of fragile birds.

“But it is illusion to think that there is anything fragile about the life of the earth; surely this is the toughest membrane imaginable in the universe, opaque to probability, impermeable to death. We are the delicate part, transient and vulnerable as cilia. Nor is it a new thing for man to invent an existence that he imagines to be above the rest of life; this has been his most consistent intellectual exertion down the millennia. As illusion, it has never worked out to his satisfaction in the past, any more than it does today. Man is embedded in nature.”

The Takeaway: To improve the clarity of your writing, spend at least ten minutes a day reading aloud from writers who write clearly, such as Lewis Thomas. You will see, hear and feel the stark contrast between careful, grown-up diction and the careless, infantile diction that besets us every day. If you would like a list of recommended writers and works, please email me at the address shown in my profile. Ask for my “List of Writers to Absorb.” I will respond via email.

*Thanks to Robyn Elfie Olson for introducing me to the works of Dr. Thomas.

1 comment:

  1. Joe, I love your blog. Please send me the List of Writers to Absorb. My e-mail is Our blog is

    I love the The Lives of a Cell. I am going to try the 10 minutes a day prescription.