Article Category: Book Reviews, Speechwriting

Book Review:
Thank You For Arguing


Thank You For Arguing is a fascinating introduction to classical and modern rhetoric, packed with speechwriting lessons for every public speaker.

It is grounded in the wisdom of the past (beginning with Aristotle’s ethos, pathos, and logos) and yet written for modern speakers with countless references to everyday persuasive examples.

This article is the latest of a series of public speaking book reviews here on Six Minutes.

What’s Inside?

You might think that a book which discusses ancient public speaking theories would be dull and boring. I did.

But I bought it anyway, and I’m glad I did. I was wrong. The author, Jay Heinrichs, has accomplished a rare feat. He has written a highly educational book which is also lively and entertaining.

Thank You For Arguing covers the core rhetorical teachings of Aristotle and Cicero, but Heinrichs does it entirely using modern examples, drawing on political, marketing, workplace, and cultural references, as well as his own family arguments. One paragraph discusses Socrates; the next discusses Sherlock Holmes. The balance between formal lessons and practical examples makes the book highly valuable and applicable to everyday speaking.

Among other things, you will learn:

  • A deep understanding of ethos, pathos, and logos
  • Many figures of speech
  • How to recognize strong and weak logical arguments
  • How to recognize (and use, or defend against) persuasive techniques
  • How to construct a persuasive speech

The Price

At the time of writing this review, you can get this paperback book for only $10.08 from amazon.com. This is 28% off the list price.

As you can see from the Amazon screenshot below, the book is both popular and well-liked.

3 Things I Love about Thank You For Arguing

The three things I liked most about Thank You For Arguing are:

1. Figures of Speech Abound

I bought this book to gain a deeper understanding of figures of speech, and I am completely satisfied. The book delves into dozens of figures of speech, like accismus, anadiplosis, and anaphora just to name a few of the A’s. Heinrichs provides not only definitions and examples, but also the origins of the techniques. He discusses them in context with related figures and rhetorical concepts. As a result, you learn not only how to recognize the figures, but also when and where it would be to your advantage to use them.

2. The Honest “Persuasion Alerts”

The pages are littered with sidebar “persuasion alerts” which the author introduces by saying “it’s only fair to show my rhetorical cards — to tell you when I use devices to persuade you.

These sidebars make it clear that this book is not only written about persuasive techniques, but also written with persuasive techniques. For example, antithesis is discussed on page 217 in depth, but the sidebar on page 5 points out that the author just used that technique in the introductory chapter. I admire the transparency of his approach.

Like all the best teachers, Heinrichs teaches best by demonstrating his own lessons.

3. Valuable Reference Materials

The Appendices are worth the price of this book alone. These include, as expected, a summary of figures of speech, and also a valuable guide to speechwriting techniques that I will utilize as I write and re-write my future speeches.

How could it be better?

1. Sidebar Layout could be Improved

Although I loved the sidebar persuasion alerts (and many other sidebar notes), I would have preferred if they were placed in distinct margins without text wrapping around them. (See the page excerpt at right.)

Because they are so instructive, I think they deserve a little more whitespace. The “extra” whitespace created would also provide more room for readers to scribble notes of inspiration.

2. Chapter 22

I agreed with most of the other twenty-four chapters, but Chapter 22 (talking about the presentation medium) caused me to utter a few “I don’t think so”s. If I were asked to edit the book, this is the only chapter I’d focus on.

I must concede that Heinrichs more than makes up for it with Chapters 23 and 24 where he applies all of the lessons in the book to common, everyday situations that we all might face: speaking up at a local town hall meeting, acing the job interview, persuading others in a social club, or seeking investment for a business idea.

3. Cultural Bias

The flip side of all of the practical examples drawn from popular (American) culture is that it has introduced a cultural bias. Most Six Minutes readers are probably okay (I, too, write with a western culture bias), but it’s something you should be aware of if you are considering this book.

What Others Think

Gordon Alley-Young, American Communication Journal:

… the short, succinct chapters make the book an easy reference that can be picked up and set down to be read at short intervals. This makes the book well suited to readers with busy schedules or for those who commute via mass transit a lesson can be gleamed on a short trip to campus.

Jay Heinrichs’ blends a popular cultural savy with an equal opportunity approach to critiquing any political and/or cultural figure.

Peter Kimpton, The Observer:

This entertaining volume is a romp through the rules of rhetoric, a primer in the art of argument. […]

We’re offered ways to seduce, avoid conflict, manipulate the present tense to succeed at work, write speeches and even use eristic techniques to stop a US cop from issuing us with speeding fines.

Tom Boncza-Tomaszewski, The Independent:

If you’re the kind of person who wants to win people over, this book will help you succeed.

Verdict

Every speech and presentation is an opportunity for persuasion, even those business and scientific talks which speakers casually treat as “just informational talks.” No matter what type of speeches you deliver, your speechwriting skills will improve by reading this book, and your well-constructed arguments will be more persuasive. I learned a great deal, and you will too.

I highly recommend Thank You For Arguing for all speakers.

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Thank You For Arguing by Jay Heinrichs Andrew Dlugan 4 March 17, 2010 Reveals a collection of time-tested tools which will make you a better speechwriter and a better speaker.

This article is one of a series of public speaking book reviews featured on Six Minutes.
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Comments icon3 Comments

  1. Hi Andrew,

    I have this book sitting on my desk. Your outstanding review makes me think I should move it up on the list.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Jeff

  2. Richard R Gillen, PhD says:

    Your review echoes my thoughts on Jay’s book. I found it by chance a few years ago when I was developing a communications class and revamped my design completely as a result. I’ve purchased close to 1000 copies to give to students in my classes.

    A couple of caveats: people have to be ready for this material. It’s an easy read from my perspective, but friends and colleagues, including a very smart scientist co-teacher, often don’t have frames of reference that help apply and integrate the concepts.

    Heinrich makes it approachable to many of us: I got a kick out of Heinrich’s use of the family trope, especially wooing his wife with classical persuasion techniques. This device works for many but not all.

    I like this book best, however, because it’s made a difference in my personal life. My wife and daughter have also read the book and our relationships have improved as a result of knowing how to argue better. We’re trying to “win over” as Jay suggests, not jut “win.”

    My daughter’s reading of the book has now led to her joining my business of teaching organizational communications. How about them apples?

    Rich Gillen

  3. I’ve only read sections of this book, but since it came highly recommended from a friend of mine who is an experienced hostage negotiator, it definitely merits a full reading!
    Simon

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