Conversation: A History of a Declining Art

Front Cover
Yale University Press, Oct 1, 2008 - History - 368 pages
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 bullshit 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 judgmental as powerful forces that are likely to diminish the art of conversation.

What people are saying - Write a review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - dazzyj - LibraryThing

An entertaining intellectual history of a specific subject. The book would have benefited from more philosophy about why the subject is centrally important to civilisation. Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - varielle - LibraryThing

I plucked this book from my TBR pile after a recent feature about it on CBS's Sunday Morning. Lovers of conversation will wish to take a time machine back to the Turk's Head to have coffee with ... Read full review


ONE Conversation and Its Discontents
From the BookofJob to Platos
Religion Commerce
EighteenthCentury Britain
From Raillery toReverie SEVEN Conversation in America From Benjamin Franklin to Dale
From Countercultural
NINE The WaysWe DontConverse
Bibliographical Essay

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2008)

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.

Bibliographic information