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The author of popular works on American speech (e.g., How We Talk: American Regional English Today, 2000), Metcalf presents a lighthearted journey through the rhetoric of our country's 43 presidents, critiquing their abilities as orators and their idiosyncrasies of accent and locution. Their speechwriters also come in for discussion, but Metcalf largely bends his ear to the presidential utterance, whether composed by the speaker or not. Collectively speaking, presidents are divided into two categories, those declaiming before the invention of sound recording and those after. The former more naturally wear the orator's toga, Metcalf rating John Adams as the best but awarding a consolation prize to one postphonograph president, the Great Bloviator himself, Warren G. Harding. Today we think of presidential speech as communication rather than oration, a style whose best exponents, Metcalf decides, have been FDR and Ronald Reagan. For verbal inventiveness, the author says Thomas Jefferson is tops, although he is weirdly rivaled by the "misunderestimated" George W. Bush. An entertaining and fast read for history buffs. Gilbert Taylor
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