I read the paperback version of this book after seeing it name-checked in an excellent article on persuasive political language. How I wish I'd read the reviews of the hardback edition first! Luntz's own writing style is disappointingly heavy. Much of the book is given over to rambling and tedious anecdotes, and the overall tone is rather patronising, with frequent explanatory asides to state the obvious. I suppose I should have put the book down at the point where the author "wagers" his readers are too old and uncool to get his cleverness, and too slow-witted to immediately understand simple concepts such as words developing new meanings. He also seems to make the fairly big assumption that his reader is male.
Luntz begins with his ten rules of effective language - and these are sensible enough, but nothing new. He quotes at length from Orwell's 1946 essay on Politics and the English Language, as if it were newly published this morning - surely most people picking up this book are already at least partly familiar with that classic work. Bizarrely, he then launches into a long complaint about the world's "misuse" of terms such as Orwellian and Kafkaesque which, he tells us, really mean the opposite of what everyone understands from them.
I was hoping that after getting the basics out of the way, we would be treated to some really interesting insights into "words that work". Sadly this wasn't to be. The book has dated somewhat in the four years since it was published, so that some of what perhaps seemed fresh, now looks tired. I'd have liked Luntz to address the tension between, on the one hand, repetition to ensure the message is heard, and on the other, the slide into cliche and parody from over-use. I'd have liked him to discuss the limitations of market research as well as its benefits, in finding words that work. And I'd have appreciated some acknowledgement of gut instinct, or flights of fancy, in the process of creating a strong, appealing message.
I did find the US perspective interesting, despite the laboured writing style, and it was also useful to be reminded that good grammar doesn't necessarily matter. It's a great title for a book, especially the subtitle, which is sharp and effective. It's just a pity the content didn't live up to it.
If you want to know more about writing for your audience, whether in business or politics, there are better books around. I'd especially recommend anything by writing consultant John Simmons, or Simon Lancaster's "Speechwriting - the Expert Guide".