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4.0 out of 5 starsThe Art and Politics of Oratory
Reviewed in the United States on April 3, 2016
Give me Liberty, or Give me Death! Patrick Henry's flamboyant and famous speech kicks off this primer of American political speech making. Prolific and accomplished author Christopher Webber gives his readers a real gem of understanding as he charts the development of the concepts of liberty and freedom through the words of some of America's most accomplished orators. The result is a book that succeeds on multiple levels. By guiding us through 200 years of political rhetoric, Webber gives us an insider's view into the political process of the spin doctors and policy wonks that use the silver tongues of such masters as Webster, FDR, and Reagan, to mold public opinion to the evolving concepts of freedom and personal liberty. The book also functions as a history of American political speech making itself, through the tremendous changes wrought by technology and the prescient timing of many of the most important addresses in our nation's history.The inclusion of James W.C. Pennington after Henry and Webster and before Wendell Phillips and Frederick Douglass, seems a bit out of place to me (Webber is Pennington's biographer). the author might have eliminated him or one of the suffragettes to include other political titans like Henry Clay, or discuss more controversial figures like Calhoun or Jefferson Davis.American public opinion did not progress on a straight line from Webster to Lincoln. The abolitionists were a hated and despised minority by most, even in the North. Webber ends with Dr. King, but the order of chapters is determined by birth year, so he discussed Reagan before King, which seems a little out-of-place, given that Reagan's presidency and governorship occurred after King;s death. These are minor nitpicks and editorial choices that in no way diminish the book's value. I recommend it for anyone desiring a summary overview of one of America's great traditions.
This book covers the speeches and speak-makers who were most influential in creating, maintaining and expanding America's democratic traditions. Much of the book frankly is devoted to providing biographical detail on characters, which frankly, for the better known protagonists featured (Lincoln, FDR, Reagan, ML King) was probably not necessary.
The book in some ways is a sampler of America's great political oratory.