Wayne C. Booth was born February 22, 1921, and died October 10, 2005. Descended from Mormon pioneers, he began as a young man to wrestle with church teachings, a struggle that informed both his decision to root himself in the secular world and his particular interest in the field of rhetoric. He earned a bachelor's degree from Brigham Young University in 1944, a master's in 1947, and a PhD in 1950, both from the University of Chicago.
He was the author of several books, including the highly influential The Rhetoric of Fiction. He argued that as a technique rhetoric can enhance communication between author and reader, not merely manipulate the reader's response. To Professor Booth, literature was not so much words on paper as it was a complex ethical act. The author's task, then, is to draw readers into the web of narrative and hold them there. The critic's task is to tease out the specific rhetorical devices. He later considered rhetoric in a number of forms beyond the narrative, from political discourse to television commercials.
Booth was until 1992 professor of English at the University of Chicago, where he was associated with the Chicago school of literary criticism and became especially well known for his works on rhetoric. A former president of the Modern Language Association and founder and editor of the journal Critical Inquiry, his widely influential books have included The Rhetoric of Fiction, Now Don't Try to Reason with Me: Essays and Ironies for a Credulous Age, A Rhetoric of Irony, Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent, Critical Understanding: The Powers and Limits of Pluralism, The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction, and For the Love of It: Amateuring and Its Rivals (based largely on his devotion to cello playing).