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Publisher's Summary

'There is a serious prospect that, in our time, we are losing faith in politics. The words of politicians float by, practised and polished but profligate. The respect, veneration and hope first expressed by Pericles has gone missing. It is the grand purpose of this book to help to call it back.'

In his work as a speechwriter to senior politicians and business leaders around the world, Philip Collins has become well versed in understanding what it is that makes a speech great.

When They Go Low, We Go High explores the ways in which the most notable speeches in history have worked, analysing the rhetorical tricks to uncover how the right speech at the right time can profoundly shape the world.

Travelling across continents and centuries, Collins reveals what Thomas Jefferson owes to Cicero and Pericles, who really gave the Gettysburg Address and what Elizabeth I shares with Winston Churchill.

And in telling the story of the great speeches, he tells the story of democracy. For it is in the finest public speeches that progress unfolds, and we need those speeches now more than ever.

While we are bombarded by sound bites and social media, fake news and sloganeering, and while populists are winning support, democratic politicians need to find words that inspire and give us hope. Because disenchantment with politics fosters the dangerous illusion that there is an alternative.

Informed by Collins' own experiences as a speechwriter, When They Go Low, We Go High is a passionate defence of the power of good public speaking to propagate and protect democracy and an urgent reminder of how words can change the world.

©2017 Philip Collins (P)2017 HarperCollins Publishers

Critic Reviews

"No writer today understands the art of the speech so well as Philip Collins. His brilliant new book is an urgent tour through 2000 years of human history, revealing how the greatest addresses were shaped, while reminding us that politics and politicians still matter, and that when the greatest men and women speak to us, their words have the power to change the world." (Dan Jones, best-selling author of The Plantagenets)
"Whether it's the inaugural addresses of US presidents - or the revolutionary writing of Castro, Pankhurst and Mandela - Collins' deft touch illuminates and contextualises these moments in history with wit and sensitivity - and the conviction that rhetoric may yet be our most powerful tool for changing the world." (Emily Maitlis)
"For all those who believe in the politics of principle and hope this a wonderful reminder that they do not always lose. For all those who despair that politics can ever be inspiring again this is a must-read to shake you out of your misery." (Paddy Ashdown)

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  • Terra72
  • 12-03-17

Liberal democratic manifesto told through history of political rhetoric

An excellent history of political rhetoric skilfully tied into current events. The selection of speeches is excellent (and generally performed well by separate actors) but the real strength of the book is in Philip Collins’ own analysis and interpretation.