"This book tries to illuminate the nature of language and mind by choosing a single phenomenon and examining it from every angle imaginable. That phenomenon is regular and irregular verbs, the bane of every language student."
Something about the phrase, "examining it from every angle imaginable" is so true. In language, science, and academia, we break things down and analyze aspects of a certain subjects (here, for Pinker, verbs) until we know so much about a very small subject. More in the introduction by Pinker:
"At first glance that approach might seem to lie in the great academic tradition of knowing more and more about less and less until you know everything about nothing."
This is a great idea. We analyze things to death. We know "more and more about less and less until you know everything about nothing." Something about that idea charms me especially in the study of phonics or verbs, both of which I find fascinating.
Words and Rules is a good read, but if you have the hankering to get into some Pinker, check out The Language Instinct. That's my favorite of his so far.
One more thing: there's a few great videos with Pinker online, including some when he shows up on the Colbert Report. Here's one:
Steven Pinker--The Colbert Report 2007