Conversation A History of a Declining Art Stephen Miller

Publication date:
03 Mar 2006
368 pages: 210 x 140 x 30mm

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Essayist Stephen Miller pursues a lifelong interest in conversation by taking an historical and philosophical view of the subject. He chronicles the art of conversation in Western civilization from its beginnings in ancient Greece to its apex in eighteenth-century Britain to its current endangered state in America. As Harry G. Frankfurt brought wide attention to the art of verbiage in his recent bestselling "On Bullshit", so Miller now brings the art of conversation into the light, revealing why good conversation matters and why it is in decline. Miller explores the conversation about conversation among such great writers as Cicero, Montaigne, Swift, Defoe, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and Virginia Woolf. He focuses on the world of British coffeehouses and clubs in 'The Age of Conversation', and examines how this era ended. Turning his attention to the United States, the author traces a prolonged decline in the theory and practice of conversation from Benjamin Franklin through Hemingway to Dick Cheney. He cites our technology (iPods, cell phones, and video games) and our insistence on unguarded forthrightness as well as our fear of being judgemental as powerful forces that are likely to diminish the art of conversation.

Stephen Miller is a freelance writer and a contributing editor to The Wilson Quarterly. His essays on leading eighteenth-century writers have appeared in many magazines, including the Times Literary Supplement, Partisan Review, and Sewanee Review.

"In its disarming fashion, Miller's book has some harsh things to say about the home of free speech. ... His proper distaste is for the calculated vulgarity of those who should know better." - Will Cohu, The Daily Telegraph

"Miller is engaging and informed on the verbal public sphere promoted by the likes of Johnson, Swift and Hume." - Brian Dillon, The Financial Times Magazine

'Miller takes us on a lightning ride through 2,500 years of attitudes towards the subject... [This] book is important in alerting us to the value of a kind of exchange too often dismissed as "having a chat".' - Alain de Botton, The Times

?[A] charming (and alarming) history of conversation?as elegantly affable as the conversationalists [Miller] admires. ? And the measure of his book is that it makes one want to rush out and converse about it. Four o?clock to seven; bring your wits.? - Michael Bywater, The Independent

?[A] fascinating new book? [Miller] conducts a sort of grand tour of that greatest and most ephemeral of civilised human pursuits?? - Jane Shilling, The Times