Author(s): David Marsh
For Who the Bell Tolls is a book that explains the grammar that people really need to know, such as the fact that an apostrophe is the difference between a company that knows its s*** and a company that knows it's s***, or the importance of capital letters to avoid ambiguity in such sentences as 'I helped my Uncle Jack off his horse.'
David Marsh's lifelong mission has been to create order out of chaos. For four decades, he has worked for newspapers, from the Sun to the Financial Times, from local weeklies that sold a few thousand copies to the Guardian, with its global readership of nine million, turning the sow's ear of rough-and-ready reportage into a passable imitation of a silk purse.
The chaos might be sloppy syntax, a disregard for grammar or a fundamental misunderstanding of what grammar is. It could be an adherence to 'rules' that have no real basis and get in the way of fluent, unambiguous communication at the expense of ones that are actually useful. Clear, honest use of English has many enemies: politicians, business and marketing people, local authority and civil service jargonauts, rail companies, estate agents, academics . . . and some journalists. This is the book to help defeat them.
'A splendid and, more importantly, sane book on English grammar.' Mark Forsyth, author of The Etymologicon
It's been a lifelong mission to create order out of chaos. This is the story of my quest for perfection.
“[David Marsh] begins by explaining the mechanics of syntax through analysis of pop-song lyrics from the Beatles to De La Soul. This at first looks ingratiatingly groovy-uncle-ish, but it is at least partially rescued by his playful humour. ("Red Hot Chili Peppers, unlike the Police, favour the Middle English spelling of 'magik'. With admirable clarity, Marsh goes on to explain the gerund and subjunctive, the difference between comparing to and comparing with, and the correct use of "whom", avoidance of which has given this book its deliberately teeth-grating title. Cleverly, Marsh here inverts the usual reasons for understanding conventions. You need to know the rule for "whom" not because you should use "whom" whenever appropriate (because it will sometimes sound pompous), but because you need absolutely to avoid using "whom" when it should actually be "who", since that will sound both pompous and stupid. Despite the deceptive subtitle, much of the rest of the book is not about grammar at all: it dissolves into an entertaining compendium of usage notes and mini-essays.
Steven Poole – The Guardian. (JC BookGrocer)
David Marsh is the Production Editor of the Guardian and the fierce protector of Guardian Style. Follow his hugely popular Twitter tips @guardianstyle.