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Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obamaby Sam Leith
Synopses & Reviews
The land of the free and home of the brave, America is also the country in which this truth is supposedly self-evident: that we are all equal. It may not seem so at first, but there is a startling gap between these two visions of America, one more evident in today’s fiercely partisan politics that pit free enterprise against social justice. In this fascinating look at America’s most memorable speeches—which have become monuments in national memory—Stephen Fender explores the ways American speechcraft has kept alive a dream of equality and cooperation in the face of economic forces that have favored competition and the pursuit to get ahead.
Beginning with the early American settlers and the two contrasting visions they set out—one competitive, the other cooperative—Fender traces the development of the latter through a series of dramatic addresses. He examines the inaugural speeches of early presidents such as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, moving to Abraham Lincoln’s arguments—at once logical and passionate—for maintaining the Union, and then on to the twentieth century’s great orators, such as John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. He also looks at the notion of the “great American speech” in popular culture, exploring both the usual places—such as movie courtroom scenes—where it pops up, as well as its unexpected ubiquity in adventure films, thrillers, or any story where equality and justice come under threat.
Through his exploration of great speeches, Fender paints the picture of two simultaneous and free-standing visions of American identity, offering a sophisticated look at American ideological history.
"Timed for a presidential election year, this sassy, smart book outlines and illustrates nearly every rhetorical trope and flourish related to the art of persuasion. Following precepts gleaned from the masters of this art, Leith can be fiendishly entertaining while he goes against the grain of our age, one in which rhetoric is generally looked upon with the same suspicion that Plato viewed the Sophists: as spin doctors of their day. Modern America's discomfort with anything but plain style or memorization makes it even more difficult for hopeful practitioners to gain traction in the traditional craft of oral communication. A study of Hitler's oratory and a priceless analysis of Richard Nixon's 'Checkers Speech' further prove one of the central tenets of this anxiety: 'Rhetoric's effectiveness is, in the final analysis, independent of its moral content or that of its users.' Thus, the lessons of Aristotle, Demosthenes, Cicero, Quintilian, Lincoln, Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr., presidents Obama and Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, and others, provide the foundation for a potential resurgence of this craft. Agent: George Lucas, Inkwell Management" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A hilariously entertaining exploration of how people have taught, practiced and thought about rhetoric—the art of persuasion—from Aristotle to Obama.
Rhetoric is all around us. Its what inspires armies, convicts criminals, and makes or breaks presidential candidates. And it isnt just the preserve of politicians. Its in the presentation to a key client, the half-time talk in the locker room, and the plea to your children to eat their vegetables. Rhetoric gives words power: it persuades and cajoles, inspires and bamboozles, thrills and misdirects. You have been using rhetoric yourself, all your life. After all, you know what a rhetorical question is, dont you?
In Words Like Loaded Pistols, Sam Leith traces the art of persuasion, beginning in ancient Syracuse and taking us on detours as varied and fascinating as Elizabethan England, Miltons Satanic realm, the Springfield of Abraham Lincoln and the Springfield of Homer Simpson. He explains how language has been used by the great heroes of rhetoric (such as Cicero and Martin Luther King Jr.), as well as some villains (like Adolf Hitler and Richard Nixon.)
Leith provides a primer to rhetorics key techniques. In Words Like Loaded Pistols, youll find out how to build your own memory-palace; youll be introduced to the Three Musketeers: Ethos, Pathos and Logos; and youll learn how to use chiasmus with confidence and occultation without thinking about it. Most importantly of all, you will discover that rhetoric is useful, relevant and absolutely nothing to be afraid of.
About the Author
Sam Leith is a former literary editor of the Daily Telegraph, and contributes regularly to the Wall Street Journal, Prospect, Guardian, Evening Standard and Spectator. He is the author of a novel, The Coincidence Engine as well as two works of non-fiction. He lives in London.
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