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Election Time? Check Out This Book On Rhetoric

abstract:Rhetoric has gotten a bad name lately as people associate it with politicians who are full of bluster and hot air. But the term has a much more honorable history. Broadly and rightly understood, rhetoric is the art of using words to persuade or otherwise affect an audience; for most of Western history it was viewed as a central feature of a liberal education.

Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric, published on 18 February 2011, is a return to that tradition, and is the perfect antidote to the linguistic vacuity of our age. Here, the reader exasperated by the current state of the language will find page after page of refreshment - an enjoyable and reassuring exhibition of what the English language can do at its best. Wit and great writing, presented lucidly and entertainingly, will restore hope to those driven to despair by texting and twittering.

Have you ever wondered about the best way to use erotema or litotes? Hypophora and prolepsis? Let Farnsworth show you with examples from the Anglo-American greats - from Churchill and Lincoln, Dickens, Shakespeare,Thoreau, Shaw, Chesterton, Melville and others. These effective speakers and writers used patterns that arrange words according to principles that are elements of beauty and power - repetition and variety, suspense and relief, concealment and surprise. These examples both entertain and provide a blueprint for anyone who aspires to write and speak effectively.

Not only educational but delightful. - David Mamet

Every writer should have this book. - Erin McKean, editor Verbatim Ward Farnsworth is Professor Law, Nancy Barton Scholar, and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Boston University School of Law. He attended Wesleyan University and the University of Chicago Law School. Farnsworth has written scholarly articles on a wide range of legal topics, and is the author The Legal Analyst (2007), a guide to analytical tools for thinking about the law. He has written a treatise on chess that is available on the internet. He lives in Boston with his wife and family. More information can be found at

Publication date 18 February, 2011. $26.95 hardcover, 256 pages, 978 1 56792 385 8

For more information about this book or to contact Ward Farnsworth, please contact Sue Ramin, sue @, 617 451 9600 ex 29.


April 21, 2011
— Farnsworth explains how he became interested in rhetoric:

The mystery of how good speech and writing do their work has been, for me, one of those interests that starts early and won’t let go. I first became aware that the subject might be studied formally—that there was a discipline of “rhetoric”—not in English classes but as a student of Latin. I sometimes would come across charming old treatises on rhetoric from classical times and wonder why we had nothing like them. When I was later looking for an academic field, law seemed attractive in part because the question of how to speak and write effectively had some practical urgency there. All sorts of things are on the table in a law school, and for the last decade or so I have been able to study and teach various aspects of rhetoric on the side of my more traditional work as a law professor.

I first began collecting the examples in the book for my own edification too many years ago to count. Then I developed them further for use with my students, and saw that they might eventually be turned into a book for a modern audience something like what Quintilian wrote for the Romans. In one respect I was actually in a better position than Quintilian because I had more source material to draw from than he ever did. All that source material was a blessing and a curse; there was a lot to read, and the research for the book, though immensely pleasant, was the labor of many years. I shudder to think of all that had to be left out so that reading the book would not be endless, too. But I wanted to show that you can have a good time learning about rhetoric, and that the old masters of the art make great and entertaining teachers. Those aims called for a light book rather than a fat one.

We live in a time when most books about writing are largely about how to make prose simpler. I agree that simplicity is probably the most important virtue in a writer. But when you read speech and writing that has stood the test of time, you realize that its authors understood much more about their craft than the typical modern book on writing ever explains. In many cases those authors had studied classical languages and picked up rhetorical ideas that way; sometimes they studied rhetoric directly in English; invariably they were raised in a culture where attractive speech and writing were valued more highly than they are now. From one source or another, they had a lot of knowledge about eloquence, conscious or not, that we have lost. We can use more books that recover what they knew. Rhetorical figures amount to just one little aspect of that knowledge, but they are a great place to begin. Figures are fun to study, and their beauty and usefulness are apparent right away. They give you the immediate pleasure of seeing patterns that you didn’t know were patterns, and that help explain why compelling language sounds that way. Every now and then a modern statesman will give a terrific speech or have a great impromptu moment in a debate, and people will say how refreshing this was and perhaps make a comparison to Lincoln or Churchill. Upon analysis, those usually turn out to be cases where the speaker made unusually good use of a rhetorical figure or two.



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