"The problem with people who want to impose their linguistic tastes on others," says David Crystal, "is that they never do so consistently." I'm not so sure I agree that's the problem. Consistency wouldn't be quite enough to excuse grammar fascism. I'd say the problem with people who want to impose their linguistic tastes on others by writing books on how to write is that they are so bad at it: though often they are good enough at writing (I have never said that E. B. White or George Orwell couldn't write), they actually don't know how they do what they do, and they are clueless about the grammar of the language in which they do it, and they offer recommendations on how you should write that are unfollowed, unfollowable, or utterly insane.
Both Crystal and I have been suffering the same painful experience — reviewing the same ghastly, insufferable, obnoxious, appallingly incompetent book. It is by Simon Heffer, the associate editor of the UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph, who imagined that he could improve the world by offering 350 pages of his thoughts on grammatical usage, uninformed by any work since he was in college thirty years ago — in fact pretty much innocent of acquaintance with any work on English grammar published in more than half a century.
The book is called Strictly English: The Correct Way to Write… and Why It Matters. It was published in September by Random House (whoa! that's random!). If you can feel your teeth start to itch as you read his title, don't buy the book. Look at it in the front of the bookstore and then put it back on the table. It really is that pompous, and for true bone-headed blundering stupidity about grammar it actually gives The Elements of Style a run for its money.
I know that a few tender souls will feel that there must be something good in everything, and that I really shouldn't be so negative. So I will say one favorable thing about the book. Holding it in my hands did not make my skin erupt in a horrible disfiguring disease. There. I'm done. Don't tell me I don't know how to be fair and balanced.
David Crystal and I don't actually disagree much about Heffer. We can hardly jam the things we have to say about him into the few hundred words we were allowed, and although we tried desperately to include the very best points we could make about the book's awfulness, we hardly overlap at all. You can see a PDF of his review here (it was published in the New Statesman) and a PDF of mine here (the version I link to includes page references for the charges I make; Times Higher Education published it without them as a matter of house style, but you are Language Log readers and I thought some of you might find my charges unbelievable and would want to creep into a bookstore and surreptitiously look things up).