William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White •
The Elements of Style •
In the publishing world, few names are as revered as that of E.B. White. William Strunk’s tiny opus on the fundamentals of solid writing might long ago have sunk into oblivion were it not for his former student. White recognized the work’s merits and added a section of his own; the result is the definitive, highly respected guide known in the trade as Strunk and White.
The book’s first half (Strunk) contains 22 commandments for grammar, structure, and purity, including the sublimely terse “Omit needless words.” Examples of graceful and clunky prose follow each rule. White, in his half, gets a bit more chatty, delving into the importance of revision and cautioning against overwriting. Together these two collaborators turned out the single best handbook in existence for crafting clear, comprehensible English.
White imprints the work with his characteristic understated wit, and even straitlaced Strunk seems to be enjoying himself with this dangling modifier: “Being in a dilapidated condition, I was able to buy the house very cheap.” The pair are united in their belief that “the reader [is] in serious trouble most of the time, floundering in a swamp, and [it is] the duty of anyone attempting to write English to drain this swamp quickly and get the reader up on dry ground, or at least to throw a rope.”
This is the ultimate writer’s companion, chock-full of sane, sound, good-humored guidance and advice, with more gold per page than any other work of its kind.
“Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar,” affirms White.
And he should know.