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Extended Audio Sample The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say about Us, by James W. Pennebaker Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (608 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: James W. Pennebaker Narrator: Robert Fas Publisher: Tantor Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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We spend our lives communicating. In the last fifty years, we’ve zoomed through radically different forms of communication, from typewriters to tablet computers, text messages to tweets. We generate more and more words with each passing day. Hiding in that deluge of language are amazing insights into who we are, how we think, and what we feel.

In The Secret Life of Pronouns, social psychologist and language expert James W. Pennebaker uses his groundbreaking research in computational linguistics—in essence, counting the frequency of words we use—to show that our language carries secrets about our feelings, our self-concept, and our social intelligence. Our most forgettable words, such as pronouns and prepositions, can be the most revealing: their patterns are as distinctive as fingerprints.

Using innovative analytic techniques, Pennebaker X-rays everything from Craigslist advertisements to the Federalist Papers—or your own writing, in quizzes you can take yourself—to yield unexpected insights. Who would have predicted that the high school student who uses too many verbs in her college admissions essay is likely to make lower grades in college? Or that a world leader’s use of pronouns could reliably presage whether he led his country into war? You’ll learn why it’s bad when politicians use “we” instead of “I,” what Lady Gaga and William Butler Yeats have in common, and how Ebenezer Scrooge’s syntax hints at his self-deception and repressed emotion. Barack Obama, Sylvia Plath, and King Lear are among the figures who make cameo appearances in this sprightly, surprising tour of what our words are saying—whether we mean them to or not.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Penetrating…lively and accessible.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “Pennebaker’s take on the unexpected importance of throw-away words is the kind of fun pop linguistics [fans] devour.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Narrator Robert Fass guides the listener through the absorbing material with a judicious use of tonal variation, which keeps his delivery fresh.”


  • “A comprehensive investigation of how our words…reveal important insights about our behavior, emotions, and personalities.”

    Kirkus Reviews

Listener Opinions

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 by Karla | 2/14/2014

    " It blew my mind when I learned about Dr. Pennebaker's insights on how our use of words reflect our psychological states. I don't like to think that someone you have never met can figure you out just by analyzing one of your writing samples. On the other hand, I love the idea of being able to figure out someone else just by analyzing a sample of his or her writing. Nevertheless, I became bored by his repetition of some of the main concepts and had to take breaks while reading. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the relationship between language and psychology. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Krista Stevens | 2/5/2014

    " Not just for grammar geeks - we reveal far more than we realize by our word choices - even the smallest one such as articles (a, an, the) and I vs. we. Great political analysis as well as psychological interpretations from anything from emails to Craig's List postings. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Brendan | 2/3/2014

    " interesting, thoughtful, but woefully dry. A few hundred pages of statistics will do that to you. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Tim | 1/31/2014

    " Wait until you see his online introduction to psychology...! "

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About the Author

James W. Pennebaker is a social psychologist whose research focuses on the relationship between natural language use, health, and social behavior. Throughout his career, he has received grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and other federal agencies for work in his field. His articles have been published in academic journals, and his books include Opening Up, Writing to Heal, and The Psychology of Physical Symptoms. He is currently the centennial liberal arts professor and chair of the department of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers.