Taking the position that style has a value in its own right, that language forms a major component of the story a nonfiction writer has to tell, Anderson analyzes the work of America’s foremost practitioners of New Journalism—Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, and Joan Didion.
Anderson does for nonfiction what insightful critics have long been doing for fiction and poetry. His approach is rhetorical, and his message is that the rhetoric of Wolfe, Capote, Mailer, and Didion is a direct response to the problem of trying to convey to a general audience the sublime, inexplicable, or private and intuitive experiences that conventional rhetoric cannot evoke.
The emphasis in this book is on style, not genre, and the analysis characterizes the distinctive styles of four American writers, showing how the richness and complexity of their prose discloses an important argument about the value of language itself. Their prose is complex, nuanced, layered, affecting, always aware of itself as style. This self-consciousness, Anderson contends, prepares the reader to regard style as argument, a “tacit but powerful statement about the value of form as form, style as style.”