Derek Thompson



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Hit Makers: The Science of ...

3.94 avg rating — 3,572 ratings — published 2017 — 25 editions
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“People prefer paintings that they’ve seen before. Audiences like art that gives them the jolt of meaning that often comes from an inkling of recognition.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: Why Things Become Popular

“It is the simplest phrase you can imagine,” Favreau said, “three monosyllabic words that people say to each other every day.” But the speech etched itself in rhetorical lore. It inspired music videos and memes and the full range of reactions that any blockbuster receives online today, from praise to out-of-context humor to arch mockery. Obama’s “Yes, we can” refrain is an example of a rhetorical device known as epistrophe, or the repetition of words at the end of a sentence. It’s one of many famous rhetorical types, most with Greek names, based on some form of repetition. There is anaphora, which is repetition at the beginning of a sentence (Winston Churchill: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields”). There is tricolon, which is repetition in short triplicate (Abraham Lincoln: “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people”). There is epizeuxis, which is the same word repeated over and over (Nancy Pelosi: “Just remember these four words for what this legislation means: jobs, jobs, jobs, and jobs”). There is diacope, which is the repetition of a word or phrase with a brief interruption (Franklin D. Roosevelt: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”) or, most simply, an A-B-A structure (Sarah Palin: “Drill baby drill!”). There is antithesis, which is repetition of clause structures to juxtapose contrasting ideas (Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”). There is parallelism, which is repetition of sentence structure (the paragraph you just read). Finally, there is the king of all modern speech-making tricks, antimetabole, which is rhetorical inversion: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” There are several reasons why antimetabole is so popular. First, it’s just complex enough to disguise the fact that it’s formulaic. Second, it’s useful for highlighting an argument by drawing a clear contrast. Third, it’s quite poppy, in the Swedish songwriting sense, building a hook around two elements—A and B—and inverting them to give listeners immediate gratification and meaning. The classic structure of antimetabole is AB;BA, which is easy to remember since it spells out the name of a certain Swedish band.18 Famous ABBA examples in politics include: “Man is not the creature of circumstances. Circumstances are the creatures of men.” —Benjamin Disraeli “East and West do not mistrust each other because we are armed; we are armed because we mistrust each other.” —Ronald Reagan “The world faces a very different Russia than it did in 1991. Like all countries, Russia also faces a very different world.” —Bill Clinton “Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.” —George W. Bush “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” —Hillary Clinton In particular, President John F. Kennedy made ABBA famous (and ABBA made John F. Kennedy famous). “Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind,” he said, and “Each increase of tension has produced an increase of arms; each increase of arms has produced an increase of tension,” and most famously, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Antimetabole is like the C–G–Am–F chord progression in Western pop music: When you learn it somewhere, you hear it everywhere.19 Difficult and even controversial ideas are transformed, through ABBA, into something like musical hooks.”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: Why Things Become Popular

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” In”
Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: Why Things Become Popular

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