What would we do without the adventures of lively conversations during which we can voice our opinions, share our experiences, and tally up our evaluations and judgments of everything from movies to the ethical challenges? In these contentious times, it is crucial not only to converse well but also to listen attentively.

N. J. Enfield is a professor of linguistics at the University of Sydney, Australia. In this snappy and edifying book, he charts some of the important rules of conversation, explores the split-second timing that is operative even in chit-chat, analyses the ways we handle errors and misunderstandings, and discusses the functions of clichés such as "uh," "um-hmm," and "huh?"

Enfield sings the praises of “the remarkable feats of everyday dialogue.” He sees it as a collaborative art that provides both pleasure and community. We have a friend who, thanks to his faulty memory, is constantly frustrated by missing the magic moment when he has the chance to join in the conversation around the lunch table. By the time he gets his thoughts together, the train of talk has left the station with him standing alone, lamenting his lost chance to join it. We are going to give him a copy of this book so he can work out ways of catching the conversation train before it leaves the station.