Monday, September 24, 2007

Basic instincts - A life in writing

Steven Pinker caused outrage by arguing that everything from adultery to altruism has its roots in natural selection. His work on irregular verbs still provokes hate mail Oliver

This summer, the linguist and evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker flew to London on the kind of mission that is all part of the job, when your job is the nebulous one of "intellectual rock star". His publishers had arranged for him to be the headline act at a gathering of senior buyers in the book trade, and his presence was intended to let a little of his glamour rub off on the rest of the firm's titles.

Pinker, who has just turned 53, seems built for the limelight to an almost parodic degree, with his Roger Daltrey hair, prominent jawline, and fondness for jeans and leather boots. His latest book, The Stuff of Thought, revels in its mass appeal, drawing conclusions about the human brain from the cute mistakes that children make ("we holded the baby rabbits") and the rich lexicon of swearing. "Think of the transitive verbs for sex ... fuck, screw, hump, ball, dick, bonk, bang, shag, pork, shtup," Pinker writes in one typical section. "They're not very nice, are they?"

Pinker caricature above from his website.

Penguin Books New Zealand advise NZ release date for The Stuff of Thought is November, RRP $39.95

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