Allan Metcalf admits he could not decide between two organizational schemes for this book, so he used both. Bad news for the trees, but good news for readers who can alternate between a thematic treatment of the language used by U.S. presidents and an appendix of president-by-president profiles.
The initial chapters divide U.S. presidents by general speaking style. Chapter 1 showcases George Washington, "The Original" whose speeches were formal and brief. Chapter 2 focuses on "The Orators," a group of early presidents who excelled at lengthy, majestic speaking--a style largely abandoned in our age. The four top orating presidents are John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, John Quincy Adams and James Garfield. Warren Harding is honored as "The Great Bloviator" for his grandly tedious orations. Chapter 3, "The Great Communicators," describes presidents who succeeded at technology-enhanced communication through broadcast media. Masters of this art include Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Chapter 4, "The Speechwriters," recognizes presidents who eschewed speechwriters and penned their own public addresses. Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln stand out in this group. Chapter 5, "The Down-to-Earth President," presents the everyday speech of Andy Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
The final chapters discuss aspects of presidential speech that are present in each presidency. Chapter 6, "The Blunderers," reviews slips-of-the-tongue and other verbal misadventures, inaugurating George W. Bush the "Blunderer-in-Chief." Chapter 7, "Presidents as Neologists," examines new words coined or popularized by presidents. These terms range from Washington's "administration" to George W. Bush's "misunderestimate." Thomas Jefferson is a clear leader, but the language felt each president's influence. Chapter 8, "Presidential Accents," tracks a progression from Virginia accents through addition of other regions to the present "network English." Chapter 9, "Acting Presidents," examines the dramatic speech of both re-enacted and fictional presidents--and how it sets the public's expectations. The final chapter, "How to Talk Like a President," is a brief tutorial in applying what we have learned about successful presidential speech. It contains an idealized, all-purpose presidential address. The book closes with Metcalf's "second book" of presidential profiles. Each leader is allotted two or more pages of short bio that highlights that president's speaking style.
This book is recommended as a middle-weight treatment of presidential speechmaking. The author has created a readable view of how presidents talk to us. Those wishing for a more analytical treatment are directed to Martin Medhurst's Presidential Speechwriting: From the New Deal to the Reagan Revolution and Beyond or Roderick Hart's The Sound of Leadership: Presidential Communication in the Modern Age.