Why Everyone Needs To Learn Rhetoric

Thank You For Arguing is the only book that I’ve ever read or come across that’s explicitly about rhetoric. The highest praise that I can give this book is that I find that fact to be incredibly sad. I realised while reading it, that rhetoric is an incredibly important subject.

It now seems to me that to educate people without teaching them the basic principles of rhetoric is like teaching children to add but not subtract. Half the subject matter is missing! And indeed, rhetoric was once a cornerstone of education. The ability to speak effectively and convincingly was an considered indispensable part of becoming a successful person and citizen.

Rhetoric gets a bad rap (in some ways justifiably) nowadays as a tool for manipulation. Especially given the horrifying use of propaganda during the 20th century. That’s partly the reason we stopped teaching it. But how can you defend against something if you don’t know what you are defending against?

Besides, the tool itself is neutral. At its heart, rhetoric is simply persuasion – whether you use it for good or ill is up to you.

The Surface.

Book: Thank You For Arguing

Author: Jay Henrich

Length: 480 pages

In A Sentence: A comprehensive guide on how to move people to action through your words and the art of rhetoric.

Favourite Quote: “Rhetoric can be – often is – a destructive force. That alone is reason enough to learn it, if only to inoculate ourselves against its manipulation. But rhetoric also offers the most healing power I know. I honestly believe it can save our civilisation.”

Previous, Related Recommendations: How Persuasion And Rhetoric Work

The Deep Dive: Coming Soon

The Review 

The book is accessible, engaging and easy to read. I like how Henrich structures the book. He splits it into four different sections: offence, defence, advanced offence and advanced agreement. I also like that he has these little side bars with examples and little rhetorical tricks inside the chapters. The examples he uses to illustrate his points are another strong point – they’re clear and entertaining.

In general, I think that what makes this book special and a must-read is the simple fact that its explicitly about rhetoric. There are so few books out there that teach you how to speak and write convincingly in an explicitly practical and concrete manner. Other books on the topic are typically more abstract and impractical. They will say something like “appeal to your audience” but will not include a step-by-step instruction on how to do that.

Read this book.

Why Today?

As I said here, persuasion is at the root of all human interactions – so there is that. Another reason is that the we are all slowly losing our ability to even talk to – let alone persuade – “the other side”.

One of the key lessons from this book is that – contrary to what most people believe – logic isn’t a very effective tool of persuasion. We are much more susceptible to emotional appeals. This lesson has really been hammered home in the last few years. We could all benefit from accepting that as the truth sooner rather than later.

However, I think that the most important reason you should read Thank You For Arguing is that Henrich demonstrates the true goal of arguments – which is to reach a conclusion. We are so quick to devolve into character attacks and a desire to “win”. Because when we attach our identities to our opinions we tend to confuse an attack against them as an attack against us.

The title Thank You Arguing refers to the difference between arguing and fighting. Considering the state of the discourse today, I think that we should all argue more and fight less.

So I too will thank you for arguing.