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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.