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Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama [Hardcover]

Sam Leith

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Book Description

May 1 2012
Rhetoric is all around us. It's what inspires armies, convicts criminals, and makes or breaks presidential candidates. And it isn't just the preserve of politicians. It's 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, don't 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, Milton's 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 rhetoric's key techniques. In Words Like Loaded Pistols, you'll find out how to build your own memory-palace; you'll be introduced to the Three Musketeers: Ethos, Pathos and Logos; and you'll 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.

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Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama + The Essential Guide to Rhetoric
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Review

Salon
“Delightful and illuminating....Words Like Loaded Pistols sports a fabulous assortment of examples of time-tested rhetorical gambits in action....The marvel is not that the old techniques still work, but that we ever persuaded ourselves that we could do without them.”

Publishers Weekly
“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….Leith can be fiendishly entertaining.”
 
Kirkus Reviews
“Leith brings to life a forgotten but eternally essential subject….Leith uses every tool in the rhetorician’s arsenal to argue for rhetoric’s continuing relevance….readers will gain a great deal of insight into how humans use communication to get what they want….the book fulfills Cicero’s three objectives of rhetoric: ‘to move, educate, and delight.’”
 
The Guardian (UK)
“A highly entertaining and erudite whisk through the subject [of rhetoric]… It's not hard to agree that a little rhetorical knowledge is a wonderful thing, and Leith's work will indeed prove instructive as well as entertaining to those called on to speak in public.”
 
The London Evening Standard (UK)
“In this entertaining work of scholarship, Sam Leith revives the powerful discipline of classical rhetoric… Leith is a gifted listener, and will not only tell you that ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen’ is a swelling tricolon but also which power ballad's opening bars it most resembles (AC/DC's Back in Black: ‘DUM! DUH-dum! DUH-dum-dum!’)”
 
The Observer (UK)
“Leith attempts to reclaim rhetoric with a breezy book that sprays around examples from history, politics and popular culture to outline the building blocks of public speech, flitting happily from Cicero to J-Lo, from Hitler to Homer Simpson…Leith's often engaging examples lighten any sense of learning.”
 
The Financial Times (UK)
“It is through a welter of colloquial examples and eccentric line readings that the book really comes alive…While the formal study of rhetoric might have collapsed under its own weight, Leith offers a slimmed-down version that is sure to enlighten.”
 
Telegraph (UK)
“This requires more than a cursory glance to appreciate its genius properly, but Leith’s great gift is the ability to plunder the everyday to illustrate the rarefied…He describes the development of rhetoric beautifully, and even after the most cursory dip into this, you begin to hear the world in a completely different, illuminated way.”
 
Metro (UK)
“Riveting…. Leith makes the classical techniques of rhetoric irresistibly accessible.”
 
Professionally Speaking (blog)
“A magnificently entertaining romp through the intricacies of classic rhetorical technique from Aristotle to Obama…. The genius of the book…is the irreverent and humorous range of examples he calls on to illustrate rhetoric in action.”
 
The Week (UK edition)
“Leith is good on tropes and registers and equally good at picking apart speeches - as his subtitle says, From Aristotle to Obama - to show us how they work.... [he] is good, too, on the structure of political speeches.”
 
Spectator (UK)
“Elegant, concise and frequently very funny.”
 
Independent (UK)
“Engrossing…. When it comes to Obama, Leith’s scrutiny is painstaking and he is especially illuminating on Obama’s debts to Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King.”
 
Plain Dealer
“This isn’t your parents’ rhetoric primer….Irreverent and funny, Words Like Loaded Pistols is filled with tongue-in-cheek witticisms, slang and unexpected illustrations….As political rhetoric builds toward November, Leith’s subject will be unavoidable.  For the coming months, friends, Buckeyes, countrymen, ready your ears.”
 
Plain Dealer
“This isn’t your parents’ rhetoric primer….Irreverent and funny, Words Like Loaded Pistols is filled with tongue-in-cheek witticisms, slang and unexpected illustrations….As political rhetoric builds toward November, Leith’s subject will be unavoidable.  For the coming months, friends, Buckeyes, countrymen, ready your ears.”

The New Yorker
“Leith here folds classically structured lessons on discourse into a loose but entertaining history of great oratory.”

Wilson Quarterly

“[A] rambunctious handbook of rhetoric….funny, friendly pages.”

Sacramento/San Francisco Book Review
“[A] fascinating examination of the power of words.”

Zocalo Public Square
“Leith throws around obscure Greek words like a classics professor, but there are just enough Simpsons references and jokes to make this feel like worthy extracurricular reading.”

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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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and illluminating work June 5 2012
By Michael B. McDonald - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a remarkably lucid and entertaining work, a work of genuine scholarship free of the patina of academic jargon and posturing. What's more, Leith has a real knack for discussing ways in which contemporary rhetors, including President Obama, use classic rhetorical strategies in communicating their concerns and advancing their positions, in the world. While I adore Lanham's Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, I find that Leith has a way of using Greek and Latin terms (along with Puttenham's fanciful English ones) that helps make them stick. A truly profound paramour of paronomasia, is our Mr. Leith. Highly recommended!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great introduction to classical rhetoric, written in a lively style with good examples of its relevance to modern life Aug. 17 2012
By E. Jaksetic - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Classical rhetoric deals with the very important subject of persuasive communication, but it often is presented and discussed in a manner that can be dry, technical, and daunting for many people. Fortunately, the author of this book deftly uses the principles and techniques of classical rhetoric to write a lively, engaging and informative book on classical rhetoric.

The author uses thoughtful observations, interesting comparisons, occasional humor, and very readable prose to enlighten and teach the reader about: (1) the history of classical rhetoric; (2) some of the controversies associated with classical rhetoric; (3) the main tenets and principles of classical rhetoric; (4) many of the techniques and of classical rhetoric; and (5) the relevance of classical rhetoric to many aspects of social, religious, and political life, from ancient to modern times. The author uses many practical and down-to-earth examples to explain and illustrate various aspects of classical rhetoric to make rhetoric less forbidding and more understandable for readers who may not be familiar with its terminology, tenets, and techniques.

The book is written in a style that will be easily understandable to readers without any prior knowledge of classical rhetoric. The author shows respect for the subject matter and his audience, avoiding the "Scylla" of dumbing down classical rhetoric and the "Charybdis" of being pedantic or too technical for the general reader. It is a great introduction to classical rhetoric for the general public. This is a book I would have loved to have available when I started reading books on classical rhetoric many years ago. I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in learning about classical rhetoric, and its continued relevance in modern times.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Romp Through Rhetoric Sept. 12 2012
By Royce Callaway - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a very interesting and well constructed book dealing with a subject that few people are interested in but something that many use unconsciously. Leith approaches the subject of Rhetoric in a very light hearted and folksy manner but if you choose to read this book have a good dictionary handy. I particularly liked how he used famous speeches and quotations ranging from Aristotle to Obama to illustrate his points and the parts of Rhetoric under discussion. He uses Cicero and Shakespeare to great advantage especially Henry V's speech to rally the troops "once more unto the breech". On the same topic he turns to Milton to show how Satan rallies his troops when they find themselves in Hell. He uses Churchill and Hitler to demonstrate the power of words and their effect. He also points out that both of these men labored over their speeches and were meticulous in how they were delivered and stage managed. Leith also illustrates the power of words by contrasting Mark Antony's funeral oration for Caesar to Brutus's. When these speeches are shown side by side Leith's point in the power of words and their delivery has great impact and beautifully illustrates his point.

Leith can't resist taking swipes at political conservatives but these are minor and they don't detract from the book as a whole. Overall this is a good book about a subject that probably appeals more to the English Majors than the public, but if you are interested in rhetoric or are ever called on to make a speech this is a good book to read. I enjoyed it but only gave it four stars for his frequent use of technical terms that really added little to the story. I recommend it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent work on the topic of rhetoric May 3 2013
By SJS of MD - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If the true meaning of the word "rhetoric" is to be liberated from the pejorative prison in which it has been locked for a few generations, this book might just do it. With wit, humor, and superb examples, the author demonstrates how the concept of rhetoric is instrinsic to the very essence of language itself. I can't recommend this book highly enough to all who love language and its myriad expressions.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best introduction to rhetoric that I have ever read April 21 2013
By Roy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The author provides a succinct and very readable introduction to one of the most important subjects of society, that of persuasion through classical rhetoric. He begins with a brief though enlightening history of the origins and development rhetoric, then proceeds to describe the types and elements illustrated by some of the greatest orators in history. The book is excellent for the beginner yet informative for the accomplished. It is enlightening, enjoyable and well worth the price.

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