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It was supposedly Henry Kissinger who once said that fights in Academia are so fierce because so little is at stake. Similarly, where one might have expected the End of History to bring about a period of relative political calm, since major parties throughout the world were congealing around a political/economic/cultural consensus, we instead find ourselves in the midst of insanely partisan battles over rather trivial differences and truly obscure matters. A case in point is the Left's irrational hatred of Frank Luntz, a consultant to politicians and business, and famously to Newt Gingrich at the time of the Contract with America.

Dr. Luntz's basic message -- as set forth with good humor and great verve in this book -- is that the words with which you seek to convey your message have an effect, often a decisive one, on whether your listeners are receptive. This would seem commonsensical enough, if not incontrovertible, but drives folks to distraction, who accuse him of elevating linguistic tricks above actual ideas and facts. This charge is patently false.

Perhaps it would be helpful to consider just one of the bits of advice in this useful text, a non-political one at that, in order to illustrate Dr. Luntz's larger point. In a section on how we can all apply the lessons of his profession to our own everyday lives, he discusses "How to Avoid a Ticket." He neither suggests that you argue that the radar gun was wrong nor that you try to excuse your way out of the mess, but, instead, suggests that you simply: "recognize the police officer's authority and superiority--immediately and totally." If you've had this sort of experience, as most of us have, you'll grasp the wisdom of this suggestion. It does not require you to try to reshape reality or bamboozle anyone, just shape your own behavior and how you communicate to the expectation of your audience--a police officer in this case. The advice Dr. Luntz offers with regard to political and advertising speech is similarly geared towards accepting the intellectual environment that your listeners--in that case American voters and consumers--create for you, not trying to pull a fast one on them.

It may well be that our political climate is too deranged for folks to approach a book like this with an open mind, but if you do it seems certain you'll find much here that's useful, whether you're a political wonk or just looking to get a raise from your boss. Dr. Luntz delivers on his title, explaining in admirably straightforward fashion, with numerous examples, just which words will work when you seek to communicate with others. Most of all, he makes it clear that you must always be cognizant of the fact that no matter how much you love your own words, you must always be aware of how others will hear them.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

Frank Luntz Links:

    -Frank Luntz (Wikipedia)
    -BOOK SITE: Words that Work (Hyperion Books)
    -BOOK SITE: Words that Work (Written Voices)
    -EXCERPT: Twenty-one Words and Phrases for the Twenty-first Century: from Words that Work (Hyperion Books)
    -ESSAY: Words that don't Work (Frank Luntz, 1/21/07, Huffington Post)
    -ESSAY: Voters have no confidence in any of the party leaders>: The shadow of Tony Blair looms large over politics. Our focus groups talked bitterly about spin and lost opportunities (Frank Luntz, March 16, 2007, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Stuck in the Mud: How Can the GOP Get Moving Again? Drop the Dirty Politics and Get Real (Frank Luntz, February 25, 2007, Washington Post)
    -PROFILE: Frank Luntz: the US's hottest pollster: Meet Frank Luntz - the US's hottest pollster. Now he's set his sights on our side of the pond. (Interview by Guy Adams and Ben Chu, 24 February 2007, Independent)
    -PROFILE: Ancient History: The architect of the GOP takeover flees Washington (Isaac Chotiner, 01.29.07, New Republic) -PROFILE: The GOP's Cassandra Robert D. Novak, February 1, 2007, Townhall)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: with Frank Luntz (Diane Rehm, 2/01/07)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: with Frank Luntz ( Fresh Air from WHYY, January 9, 2007)
    -INTERVIEW: with Frank Luntz (The Persuaders, Frontline: PBS)
    -PROFILE: Verdict: Not bad for Year One: Frank Luntz is the renowned American pollster who first identified David Cameron as a likely winner. On the anniversary of Cameron's election as Conservative leader, Luntz stages a special focus group for The Sunday Telegraph to assess his progress. The results were intriguing (Melissa Kite, 12/03/06, Sunday Telegraph)
    -INTERVIEW: How to speak Republican: Conservative word doctor Frank Luntz explains what Bush should say about the war, why Nancy Pelosi should keep quiet, and what the GOP can learn from Barack Obama (Katharine Mieszkowski, 1/23/07, Salon)
    -ESSAY: A Roadmap of Spin : A messaging missive attributed to the Republican Party's favorite pollster and spin-doctor explains how the war in Iraq can be turned to Israel's favor (Mother Jones, May 1, 2003)
    -ARCHIVES: "frank luntz (NPR)
    -ARCHIVES: "frank Luntz" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of Words that Work (Jason B. Jones, PopMatters)
    -REVIEW: of Words that Work (Gerry McGovern, CMS Wire)
    -REVIEW: of Words that Work (Richard Pachter, Miami Herald)
    -REVIEW: of Words that Work (Jon Sobel, Blog Critics)

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