Top positive review
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A whistle-stop tour of Rhetoric (with song lyrics!)
on 14 January 2014
I previewed this book before buying it and was encouraged by the style and pace of the sample. Rhetoric may not seem like a particularly relevant skill in modern times but this book illustrates clearly how adepts in the art can turn a run-of-the-mill idea into an apparent gem of wisdom. If you think these concepts have fallen out of use, check out the latest political sound-bite to change your mind!
The book itself is a circular tour of a catalogue of rhetorical devices, entertainingly described and illustrated with examples from everyone from Plato (if memory serves) to The Beatles and Bob Dylan. The author defines each construction, then describes how it's been used by writers down through history. Using proverbs and quotations, he makes a case for the use of the construction, often offering alternative phrasings that, quite simply, don't cut the mustard like the original. At the end of each chapter, he finishes with a final example that's also an example of the device described in the next chapter (and, by the end, he arrives back where he started).
I was particularly taken with his opening passage, which starts with a denial of Shakespeare's genius (how often do you find someone going public with that?) No, says Forsyth, what Shakespeare did was to work at his art and get better at it with years of practice. He applied many of the concepts described later in the book and, when he did, he came out with his most memorable quotations. (Would anyone remember "Can anyone lend me a horse, please?" in comparison with what he actually wrote?)
If you have any love of language, this is a book you should read. If you ever have to speak in public, ditto. But please don't expect a dry, turgid exposition of rhetoric. This is a good read and something you could keep by the bedside to dip into whenever you get the urge.