Writing to Learn: How to Write – And Think – Clearly about Any Subject at All

Book review by Deane Barker tags: writing

Unfortunately, I didn’t like this book, and it pains me to write this, since I had just finished “On Writing Well” for the third time, and it’s amazing. But this book…it just didn’t do anything for me.

Zinsser presents this as an examination of writing non-fiction, and how this type of writing can help you understand subjects. Throughout the book, he has a running commentary about a “writing across the curriculum” program at Gustavus Adolphus college, just up the road from me in St. Peter, MN. at that school, they implemented a policy of requiring students to writes papers in most all of their classes, viewing writing as a key skill, regardless of subject area.

Zinsser plays off this, and explains that if you can’t explain something well in writing, then you don’t really understand it. I agree with this point unconditionally. Zinsser takes it a step further, to say that being forced to explain something in writing can help you understand it more. I agree with this as well.

Unfortunately, he then embarks on long sections of excerpts from non-fiction writing that he’s enjoyed. This is where the book kind of falls down for me – these sections are long and tedious, and I just didn’t get much out of them. Reading vast tracts of disconnected writing isn’t a good way to teach writing, I don’t think.

Like “On Writing Well,” he divides these excerpts up into types – writing about science, the arts, journalism, etc. I liked that in this previous book, and enjoyed here as well, as it gives you an idea of how different subjects might require different treatments.

But, sadly, the book just didn’t come together for me. In the end, I found myself skimming all the excerpts and just counting the number of pages until it was over.

Book Info

William Zinsser
  • I have read this book. According to my records, I completed it on .
  • A softcover copy of this book is currently in my home library.

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