Philip A. Yaffe’s books are always entertaining and informative — as I’ve learned from reading and reviewing many of them — and his latest one, “Sweet Simplicity: An Exploration of the Simple and the Complex” (File Size: 631 KB, Print Length: 283 pages; sold Amazon Digital Services, Inc.; $3.99) is no exception.
Perhaps more than any other work by this American who has lived for many years in Brussels, Belgium, “Sweet Simplicity” is a very personal, revealing book. We learn of Yaffe’s early interest in mathematics; his majoring in science and math at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA); his love of writing honed by experience in print journalism at UCLA and Los Angeles; his two years as a Peace Corps worker in Tanzania; his love of dogs; and his interest in language that led him to be proficient in several besides his native English. Yaffe relates his experiences in creating a universal language that avoids the spelling pitfalls of English and French and would be a potential universal language. Of course, this has been done with Esperanto, which has the exotic air of Wes Anderson’s 2014 film “The Grand Budapest Hotel” but it was something I enjoyed. The spelling of both English and French is so difficult that it makes both wonderful languages so much more difficult to learn.
I read the book, provided to me in the form of a digital review copy, in one sitting at my computer and was particularly pleased by his praise of journalistic writing. This month marks my 49th year in journalism, beginning in Hammond, IN where I answered an ad for a reporter trainee in The Hammond Times. It was the first of five newspapers I’ve worked for — including almost 10 years at The Milwaukee Sentinel and almost 15 at the Los Angeles Times. It may be self-serving, but I’ve known many journalists on all five newspapers and their work inspired me to do my best with my own writing.
Enough about me; I’ll let Yaffe describe his new book in his own well chosen words:
Have you ever gone to a restaurant and when asked about it later, you said “The food was simple but good”? Or gone to an art gallery and said “The sculptures were simple but memorable”?” Or read a book and said “The plot was simple but entertaining”?
“You probably don’t realize it, but every time you use this turn of phrase, you are betraying a prejudice, i.e. that simple and good are almost contradictory terms. If it is simple, it is unlikely to be good; if it is good, it is unlikely to be simple;” says Philip A. Yaffe. “The fact is, simple things are often the best. What you should really be saying is that it was simple and good. Or perhaps more to the point, It was simple, which is why it was good.”
This is the theme of Yaffe’s new book “Sweet Simplicity: An Exploration of the Simple and the Complex.” It is largely a collection of 28 of his essays over several years; the value of simplicity is the leitmotiv running through them all.
“I hadn’t planned it that way, but I was recently asked how I get ideas for my expository (non-fiction) books. I said I really couldn’t answer because I really didn’t know. They just came. But then I suddenly realized that whether on topics of science, political philosophy, language learning, etc., there was a common thread running through them: a search for simplicity,” he recounts.
The book is divided into five major chapters:
Essence of Simplicity
Simplicity in Writing
Simplicity in Speaking
Simplicity in Science and Logical Thinking
Simplicity in Daily Life
These principal chapters are augmented by an eight-part appendix covering topics such as simple techniques for writing and speaking clearly and concisely, the simple concepts that underlie basic science, and simple rules of logical thinking vs. illogical thinking.
“You may be puzzled by the claim that logical thinking is simpler than illogical thinking;” Yaffe says. “This is because illogical thinking is not thinking at all. It is a perfect example of confusing simplicity with simplistic. Because Illogical thinking so often leads to false ideas and conclusions (occasionally you can get lucky), it is largely a waste of time. On the other hand, logical thinking almost always leads to correct ideas and conclusions, so it is never a waste of time.”
Another key appendix is “The United States Constitution: Simplified and Updated for the 21st Century.”
“If the United States Constitution were written today, it would have pretty much the same content as the original but would look different, be organized differently, and would be considerably easier to understand,” Yaffe says.
The simplified and updated Constitution excludes all text deleted by amendments from the original Constitution and all text rendered invalid by legislation, historical events, or other factors. The list of amendments, of which there are 27 in the original Constitution, has been entirely integrated into the main text.
For easier understanding, the simplified and updated Constitution has also been somewhat reorganized.
“There is a misconception that the Bill of Rights, the collective name of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, spells out all the rights and freedoms of the people. However, other rights and freedoms are also in the Constitution, either in the original body or in later amendments. Thus, there is a new section called ‘The Rights and Freedoms of the People.’ This new section brings together all the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution into a single place, for better understanding and for easy reference,” he concludes
* * *
Philip A. Yaffe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1942 and grew up in Los Angeles, where he graduated from the University of California with a degree in mathematics and physics. In his senior year, he was also editor-in-chief of the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s daily student newspaper.
He has more than 40 years of experience in journalism and international marketing
communication. At various points in his career, he has been a teacher of journalism, a
reporter/feature writer with The Wall Street Journal, an account executive with a major
international press relations agency, European marketing communication director with two
major international companies, and a founding partner of a specialized marketing
communication agency in Brussels, Belgium, where he has lived since 1974.
Books by this Author
●The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional
●The Gettysburg Collection:
A comprehensive companion to The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional
●Actual English: English grammar as native speakers really use it
●Gentle French: French grammar as native speakers really use it
●God Doesn’t Exist and He Knows It
●What’d You Say? / Que Dites-Vous?
Fun with homophones, proverbs, expressions, false friends, and other linguistic oddities in English and French
●The Little Book of BIG Mistakes
●The Little Book of Big Government
●Sweet Simplicity: An Exploration of the Simple and the Complex
●Myths and Misconceptions
Things We Know that Just Aren’t So
●Extraordinary Ordinary Things
●One-line Wonders: Humor in the Fast Lane
●The Eighth Decade: Reflections on a Life
●Funny How You Say That!
Books in “Major Achievements of Lesser-known Scientists” Series
(at January 2015)
●Astronomy & Cosmology: Major Achievements of Lesser-known Scientists
●Human Biology: Major Achievements of Lesser-known Scientists
Books in “The Essential Ten Percent” Series
(at January 2015)
●College-level Writing: The Essential Ten Percent
●Human Psychology: The Essential Ten Percent
●Logical Thinking: The Essential Ten Percent
●Public Speaking: The Essential Ten Percent
●The Human Body: The Essential Ten Percent
●The U.S. Constitution: The Essential Ten Percent
●Wise Humor: The Essential Ten Percent