Joe Louis

What A City Needs

Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City By Anthony Flint (Random House, 256 pp., $27)   For urbanists and others, the battle between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs was the great titanic struggle of the twentieth century. Like the bout between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, their conflict has magnified significance, as the two figures have become symbols. Jacobs is the secular saint of street life, representing a humane approach to urban planning grounded in the messy interactions of the neighborhood.

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Today I learned that the New York Times will be reviewing my latest book, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English, on March 15. Happy am I. I should be grateful--the Times has reviewed three of my books before, but not since 2003. I could still be a contender ... ! The main message of "Bastard," as my wife and I call the latest in shorthand, is that a language is not just words but the way the words are put together--the grammar. In contrast to the rest of humanity listening only to words, a linguist listens to language used as grammar around the clock.

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