From the Publisher
“This is a perfectly timed compendium for anyone skeptical about the power of rhetoric during a campaign, or (come on, admit it!) anyone who’s been completely mesmerized. Mr. Cohen draws upon a rich context, from news accounts in The New York Times and The Nation at the turn of the century to interviews with J.F.K. speechwriter Ted Sorensen.” —New York Observer
“Mr. Cohen’s informed narrative and perceptive analysis illuminate the addresses he gathered.” —Wall Street Journal
“This is an ideal book for the campaign season.” —Publishers Weekly
“Cohen offers a timely source for understanding the craft behind this year’s oratory.” —Booklist
“The campaign speech has always been central to who we Americans are (and perhaps even more interestingly, who we aspire to be). Thanks to Michael A. Cohen, we now have a place to read all of these essential statements in one place. Highly recommended.”—Ted Widmer, former speechwriter, President Clinton, and director, John Carter Brown Library, Brown University
Speeches are meant to be heard, not read. Even so, most of the ones Cohen analyzes in this lively work are consequential; not all, however, are "the greatest." Edited versions of the speeches are included, and on the page, many are flat; others read better than they sounded (and still sound on recordings). Nixon's "Checkers" speech now seems mawkish, the sentiments of Kennedy's "New Frontier" speech overblown. Yet Cohen, a professional speechwriter, is a sure guide, starting with the words, which now appear prescient, of Williams Jennings Bryan's 1896 "Cross of Gold" speech. Most important speeches are recognized as such when given, but Cohen doesn't tell us why that's so. He does, however, emphasize how campaigners have adapted their words and styles to changing media and audiences. What seems great in one setting (say, a convention) may fail in another (on television). What's clear from these speeches is that the great ones take a risk and are given at a particular moment for a particular purpose. This is an ideal book for the campaign season. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Cohen, a professional speechwriter, introduces 27 presidential campaign speeches given by candidates ranging from William Jennings Bryan in 1896 to Bill Clinton in 1992. Each speech is accorded its own chapter, and all the speeches have been edited, with the full versions available at www.livefromthecampaigntrail.com. Cohen's purpose is not to provide scholarly analysis but to introduce each speech and lay out a grand spectrum of political rhetoric. He concludes, not surprisingly, that campaign oratory matters; oratorical skills (or lack thereof) often make for memorable campaigns and flourishing presidential moments. Cohen's analysis of the crucial relationship between rhetoric and democracy and his argument-basic but noteworthy-that speeches are never given in a vacuum add to the value of the collection. Since presidential candidates left the front porch and entered our living rooms, their words, Cohen argues, have taken on more importance, both for their campaigns and for the health of American democracy. As he shows, the persuasive politician is largely a rhetorical one, even though rhetoric is not enough. Some of these great orators did not make it to the highest office, and some of the winners have been poor speechmakers (e.g., Nixon). The best one-volume account of presidential campaign speeches for general readers, this book belongs in every public, high school, and college library.
Stephen K. Shaw
School Library Journal
These selections work as an effective lens through which to look at and think about major political issues. Cohen's introductions to the speeches provide helpful insights into the history and themes of each period. History buffs will be interested in the mannered way the candidates spoke-about the Vietnam War, the economy, civil rights, and more. The book also functions as a strong tool to learn the basics of rhetoric. From the highbrow speeches of Woodrow Wilson and the folksy wit of Harry Truman to the polished prose of Ronald Reagan and the podium-pounding style of Jesse Jackson, each candidate had his own special way of addressing the people. Although many of the speeches are edited here, Cohen provides notes throughout to mark what has been removed and offers a Web site for anyone interested in reading the full texts. The concluding bibliographic essay functions as an effective pathway to even deeper research.-Matthew L. Moffett, Pohick Regional Library, Burke, VA