The best books about communication

Gillian Cross Author Of After Tomorrow
By Gillian Cross

The Books I Picked & Why

The Arrival

By Shaun Tan

Book cover of The Arrival

Why this book?

Imagine leaving your family and moving, on your own, to a place, where you can’t understand the language or the culture or even the buildings. A place where everything is utterly strange. The Arrival doesn’t just describe what that’s like. It allows you to experience it for yourself. And it explores how people can still communicate, even without shared language or culture. It’s a brilliant book - subtle and moving and full of hope. And it does all that without using a single word.


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Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language

By Steven Pinker

Book cover of Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language

Why this book?

I’ve always loved observing children as they learn to speak. But I never understood what a triumph that is until I read Stephen Pinker’s book. He explores a huge range of topics, including what we can learn from the mistakes children make, how languages develop, brain imaging, major ideas in philosophy, computer speech simulation, Noam Chomsky’s ideas about linguistics, and genetic research. And he does all that by focusing on regular and irregular verbs. Sounds dull? Think again. It’s a fascinating book.


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Embassytown

By China Miéville

Book cover of Embassytown

Why this book?

I like science fiction when it’s about big ideas and they don’t come much bigger than this. Imagine a world where the alien inhabitants are incapable of lying. They can’t even use figures of speech, like similes, unless someone has acted out what they want to use as a comparison. (Avice, the girl who ate what was given to her, is the human simile who narrates the story.) Sounds idyllic? Maybe – until you start thinking about how you’d make plans, or discuss ideas. This isn’t an easy read, but it’s fascinating and it made me think hard.


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Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures

By Merlin Sheldrake

Book cover of Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures

Why this book?

I knew that animals communicate with each other, and I’ve read some intriguing books about how trees seem to communicate, but – fungi? That was a completely new idea to me. This book explores topics like how fungi influence humans and animals (with some creepy stuff about insects), the ‘Wood Wide Webs’ which link fungi, bacteria, plants, and trees, and the role mycorrhizal fungi played in the development of life on earth. We’re all connected. Once you’ve read it, a woodland walk will never be the same again!


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Going Postal

By Terry Pratchett

Book cover of Going Postal

Why this book?

The Discworld books are the best kind of serious play, exploring aspects of our everyday world by turning them upside down, filling them with dwarfs and vampires, and embedding them in a non-stop action story – which somehow manages to say intelligent and important things about the central topic. Going Postal is about a clash between Ankh-Morpork’s government-run Post Office and the privately-owned clacks service (like email but with different technology). Both sides get a fair shot and the conflict is resolved by an almost magical piece of communication by a trickster who understands the magic of language.


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