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Book review: The Elements of Eloquence

3 min, 39 sec read
16:18 PM | 20 February 2014
by Jim Compton-hall
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What's it about?

How does a great line become a great line? Why were Shakespeare’s plays so good, why don’t we ever tire of quoting Winston Churchill and how is it that a meerkat can sell car insurance? The answer to all those questions is a few well placed rhetorical devices. Devices you can read all about in The Elements of Eloquence.

The Elements of Eloquence is a rhetorical frenzy of diacope, chiasmus and more diacope. Not to mention alliteration and assonance, hyperbole, zeugma, litotes, merisms and much much more. Did we say diacope? 

If you don’t know what any of those are or you can’t identify any of the innumerable and overused rhetorical devices above then this book might be for you.

Here’s a short video by the author, Mark Forsyth, to give you a little taster of the book.


Is it any good?

It doesn’t have every rhetorical device ever (but we doubt any book ever has or ever will. Even Wikipedia is missing pages) but it’s a handy book that explains some of the most powerful.

Each device is explained and then littered with examples from famous poems, film scripts and even advertising slogans. And if you’ve ever read any of Mark Forsyth’s other work, you’ll know that the whole book is witty, interesting and even laugh-out-loud funny at times. You probably won’t find a more enjoyable book on rhetoric.

But the biggest reason you should read The Elements of Eloquence is not that it’s a good book about rhetoric, but because it’s a good book that’s not about advertising. Advertising and copywriting books are great but once you’ve read one, you’ll find that any more start to sound a little repetitive. Although you could fill a thousand books with entirely separate tips for copywriting, advertising books all choose to share the “best” tips meaning that there are a bunch of topics that just don’t get much coverage. Rhetoric is one of those topics (some advertising books mention the importance of it or, at best, throw in a little alliteration but you need a whole book to explain rhetoric in any detail).

Who's it for?

Copywriters. Copywriters need to know how to write and knowing how to write is more than just getting your spelling right. Rhetoric is a huge part of writing and you’ll find that all the best advertising slogans and headlines are built upon a rhetorical device.

The Elements of Eloquence is great for anyone who isn’t all that familiar with rhetoric as it takes you through each of the most common devices, explaining them and offering examples to help you understand. It’s also a great refresher and reminder for anyone who already knows their stuff. And it works nicely as a handbook to keep by your desk for constant referral (you won’t remember it all after just one read through).

Tip: When writing a headline or tagline, try going through the list of rhetorical devices in The Elements of Eloquence and writing lines using each of them. You may come up with some great lines that you’d never have thought of otherwise.

How much is this going to cost me?

It costs £12.99 but retailers such as Amazon and Waterstones are selling it for under a tenner (at the time of writing). Well worth it in our opinion.

What's the verdict?

The Elements of Eloquence is an admirable read. If you’re a writer and you don’t know much about rhetoric then we implore you to read this book. Your writing will probably improve tenfold. If you’re already a rhetorical expert then you might still like to check this one out, either as a refresher or to keep nearby to refer to when writing those snappy lines.

Note: Do you really need to know rhetoric? Maybe the people who wrote "Think Different" and "Simples" didn't know about enallage. Maybe the people who wrote "The future's bright. The future's Orange" and "My Goodness, My Guinness" didn't about anaphora or isocolons. Maybe the people who wrote "Be all that you can be" and "Get's you back to you" hadn't heard of diacope. But the more you know of rhetoric, the more you'll be able to write great lines without relying on just getting lucky.

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