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Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama
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Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  799 ratings  ·  86 reviews
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 bamboo ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published May 1st 2012 by Basic Books (first published 2011)
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Jan Rice
Jun 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
The author begins with historical framework. Plato hated rhetoric; it paled compared to the pursuits of philosophy. It was for manipulating the masses, and, by the way, he hated democracy, too. He saw it as mob rule, as when it condemned his hero Socrates. The author paints a quick picture of direct democracy in which cases were tried before a crowd (of citizens, of course--landed male heads of household). Aristotle, on the other hand, saw in rhetoric the royal road to what made people tick. Tha ...more
Rachel Aranda
Nov 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mr. Leith makes rhetoric, basically the art of persuasion, practical and easy to understand for someone who didn’t give this topic that much thought. This book was not only the balance between discussion about rhetoric and mild humor, but the many examples referenced from film, literature, politics, history, and everyday life.

The layout of the book begins with the basics and overview of argument and rhetoric, which helped me understand the academic definition of this topic. Then Mr. Leith launch
Jul 19, 2013 rated it liked it
This book was a little too advanced for me. I can get only so much from studying the great speakers that the author used as examples. I did appreciate his explanation of the historical development of rhetoric, however. The stories of Plato and Aristotle were particularly helpful.
Interesting read, but I do think it's more appropriate as a book just to read when you like rhetoric, not necessarily as a study book (which it was for me).
Quite a nice read, but I think I would have enjoyed it better if I didn't had to learn from it for uni (I do recommend it though).

Feb 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
I know it is often said that “actions speak louder than words” but words, you know, do also carry some weight as well, as evidenced in “Words Like Loaded Pistols.” What I really liked about this book was not only the balance between discussion about rhetoric and mild humor, but the many examples referenced from film, literature, politics, history, and everyday life. The author references classic orators like Cicero, Plato and Aristotle, but takes many of the ideas about being persuasive and rela ...more
Sep 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I bought this for my high school student to read as an “after summer” refresher on persuasive essay writing. It really is perfect for this – it reviews rhetorical techniques and types of speeches/essays in a very entertaining way (though my student probably won't recognize the Yogi Bear/Jellystone Park references, and those to current British politics mostly went over my head as well). Leith provides numerous examples to illustrate the techniques he describes, and his style is conversational and ...more
Oct 14, 2012 rated it liked it
When you load that pistol, what's the difference between a live round that hits the target and a dud that misses its mark?

Ultimately, I didn't leave with a clear answer to that question. By going over great speeches from history, the author illustrates rhetorical tricks. But there must be plenty of speeches using the various listed techniques that have nevertheless been instantly forgotten. Still, it was interesting to look at great examples, and more practical than some recent psychobabble boo
John Farebrother
I bought this book because it was reviewed on Channel 4 News. It is effectively a handbook of rhetoric: how to be a successful public speaker. On the face of it a very dry subject, but the author manages to breathe life into it, with the result that this is a very engaging book. He explores the history of rhetoric, from the Ancient Greeks to Barack Obama, and by so doing reveals how comprehensive the rules of rhetoric established in the ancient world were. They are as relevant today as they were ...more
Jul 15, 2012 rated it really liked it

Brief introduction to the most important science of western civilization, it marks the elegance of language in a clear and appealing way, from the stanzas of poets to the sermons of revolutionary leaders, "words with loaded"is a book that opens the books of Cicero, aristotle, and the many champions of this now illusive and prolific craft.
Funny and useful, but I wish some of the examples were less cliche!
Cian Morey
Mar 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"The best available analysis of what rhetoric is, and how it works."

Above can be found a large-print back-cover endorsement of this book by none other than Mr Boris Johnson. So there. Now we really know we're in for a corker, don't we?

"You Talkin' To Me?" is an engrossing look at a topic which really doesn't get looked at enough. Sam Leith details what rhetoric is and how to wield it in a manner that is informative, accessible, hilarious and, despite trotting back to Aristotle from time to time,
Clark Hays
Jun 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Rhescuing Rhetoric

Rhetoric has become a dirty word these days. Especially during an election year, “empty rhetoric” gets tossed around a lot by both sides which, as the author points out, is a rhetorical tactic. But Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama by Sam Leith does an admirable job of extracting rhetoric from the trashcan, dusting it off and showing how it is the cornerstone of all good communication, from poetry to fiction and from conversation to, of course, public
Apr 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is likely that many people, at least those for whom English is their first language, will have come across at some time in their lives speeches featuring phrases such as `for the people, by the people, of the people'; `I have come to bury Caesar not to praise him' and `We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender', and so on, and been impressed and possibly moved to ...more
Aug 06, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
As an apologia for the maligned and under appreciated craft of rhetoric, Sam Leith succeeds in this book in a persuasive argument for recovering this ancient skill. Rising to prominence in Ancient Greek democracy, despite noted detractors including Plato, Rhetoric was enshrined as one of the Liberal Arts. Leith defines Rhetoric as, "the attempt by one him an being to influence man other in words. He goes on to show the promise and the danger of well-chosen words in writing, "Ghandi never picked ...more
The American Conservative
'Sam Leith, former literary editor of the Daily Telegraph, novelist, and contributor to the Wall Street Journal and other publications, is cheeky, talented, smart, and a fine and easy writer, intoxicated by words and the way we arrange them to sell, persuade, praise, explain, attack.

In "Words Like Loaded Pistols," he sets out to share his enthusiasm for rhetoric, and, with only an occasional misfire, he succeeds admirably, in large part because of his unflagging good nature and offbeat sense of
Sep 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Competent, even good, introduction to the art of Rhetoric and many of its concepts. Whether or not Mr. Obama is a rhetoric genius may be up for debate, but there's an argument to be made for it.

This book is written with the university student in mind, Words Like Loaded Guns says about everything one needs to know to determine the target market and emotional maturity of the aesthetic. That said, Mr. Leith has written a book most rhetorical beginners will find useful, as long as they are cultural
Dec 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
Good general introduction to rhetoric. Leith offers practical tips on public speaking and the uses of rhetoric with examples from Cicero to Obama. He also attempts to come to grips with the fact that rhetoric is a powerful tool that "persuades and cajoles, inspires and bamboozles, thrills and misdirects." He acknowledges that "[r]hetoric's effectiveness is . . . independent of its moral content or that of its users," but argues that "the more good guys get glued into how it works, the better off ...more
Artur Massana
Oct 13, 2012 rated it liked it
This book has been translated into Spanish and I have just read the Spanish version. I have given it four stars because I think it is a useful first approach to the topic. Sometimes very funny, for instance I laughed a lot with the deep rhetorical analysis of a single song of the film South Park. The only problem I see with this book is that almost all examples are very related to anglosaxon culture and politics. I think the author and translator might have tried to use more local and familiar e ...more
Charles Cohen
When I started this, I thought I was buying one book - about the power of rhetoric, and how great speakers create great speeches and so move people - and actually bought something else. Words... has some of that appreciation, but it's also very technical, delving into the more esoteric aspects of rhetoric (of which there are MANY).

But then I realized that all I wanted was a book to help me be a better speech-writer and -giver, and then I settled down and really enjoyed it.
Feb 16, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Impressively unfunny. Rife with already outdated and overwrought pop-culture references, a borderline condescending tone of voice and annoying footnotes created just to make HILARIOUS* comments. The admittedly well-structured and interesting theoretical material collapses under the weight of misguided hipness.

*not actually hilarious, see?
Apr 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
A good introduction or review of classic rhetoric by a great fan of the subject. Not a textbook or how-to manual, this book is more about sparking interest and is best when Leith is parsing texts. Rhetoric texts are often dense and staid, but Leith writes with joy and his enthusiasm is infectious. Recommended for anyone with an interest in language.
Erkan Saka
Jul 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-theory
Easy read. Refreshes the very basics of rhetoric. It is a good idea to provide portrayals of rhetorical figures from the classics and moderns. In the end, there is a good dictionary of rhetorical concepts. I wish there could be simple explanations of these concepts in the main text itself. The readers needs to go back and forth...
Mar 02, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-school
I think this was more of a 2.5 book. There is a lot of good information about rhetoric in this book. Leith makes tons of jokes, too, so he can keep you entertained. I just had a hard time following some of his writing though because sometimes when he inserts jokes, it interrupts the flow of the text.
Margaret Sankey
Oct 03, 2012 rated it liked it
Just in time for political debates, an entertaining review of rhetorical skills, with lively examples ranging from the frequent use of tricolon in AC/DC songs to "all your base are belong to us" as hypallage or David Lloyd George's fondness for enargia when talking about coal miners.
Brian Mcleish
Feb 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
A modern take on an old classic, the rhetoric handbook. Clips along at a good pace and you learn stuff without realising it.
Jul 23, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: rhetoric
I like the topic of rhetoric and this gave a readable overview with some good examples from history.
Feb 27, 2013 rated it liked it
Good introduction to rhetoric.
Oct 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I found it a great introduction to and, ultimately, summary of rhetoric. Made me chuckle a lot too.
Jonathan Kerr
May 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent introduction to the subject of rhetoric, and a good primer. A little light in places, but a book that is easy to read and will fire your interest in this fascinating topic.
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“Being anti-rhetoric is, finally, just another rhetorical strategy. Rhetoric is what the other guy is doing—whereas you, you’re just speaking the plain truth as you see it.” 0 likes
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