This is a useful, well-written book focusing on using the tools of rhetoric to persuade people of things. It's different from most books on rhetoric by emphasizing contemporary, realistic examples - trying to get a promotion, win a client, make a sale, convince someone to vote a certain way - and by focusing on how people really decide things, not on idealistic versions of that. Thus, the author does a very good job of discussing why "decorum", fitting in, is important, and how it is important to know what motivates the other person. And it's different from books on psychology and people-skills, like How to Win Friends and Influence People, because it focuses mainly on rhetoric.
The writing is anecdotal and personal, full of jokes, some of them funny, and references to pop culture. I felt the second half of the book became a bit disorganized - it was sometimes not precisely clear to me whether the author was discussing logos, pathos, or ethos, or exactly where a chapter fit into the big scheme of things. But it's certainly well-written.
And the book is unquestionably useful, both in identifying and in using rhetorical techniques. Frankly, I wish I'd had this book when I was younger: I used to think persuasion was based entirely on logic. There are many day-to-day interactions and even career decisions that would be greatly aided by knowing the material here.
Although the book is entertaining, useful, even important, I nevertheless had a couple complaints.
(1) There were a number of errors in the identification and naming of rhetorical figures. Although these errors were likely just due to sloppy editing, I felt they would substantially confuse most readers.
For example, "metonymy" is defined on page 213 as something that "uses a part to describe the whole." True, using a part for a whole can be a type of metonymy, but metonymy actually means using something associated with another thing to stand for that other thing. The glossary repeats the incorrect definition, but concedes that metonymy can mean using cause for effect. Again, that is a type of metonymy, not metonymy itself.
Similarly, synecdoche is also misdefined as that "which swaps one thing for a collection." (p. 213). Synecdoche is using a part for the whole. Saying "The White House denied the allegations" would be a metonymy, not a synecdoche as the author incorrectly claims, because "White House" is not a part of the presidential administration.
The author also argues on page 210 that "every verse in the first book of Genesis" after the first starting with "And" is an example of anaphora. I think most people would say "chapter" not "book" of Genesis, but leaving that aside, I don't think anaphora is the correct figure here, if anything it is polysyndeton. The "and"s are not emphasized, they are just connecting words. (This point is fairly clear when we think of the meaning of anaphora, which is to emphasize the repetition, but in the Hebrew it's even clearer - the "And" comes from the Hebrew prefix vav- and isn't even its own word, it's just sort of a grammatical linking word.
The author makes the same error on page 211, mischaracterizing an example from Monty Python and the Holy Grail as anaphora when it is better characterized as polysyndeton.
On page 196 the author does correctly define polysyndeton, but the example next to it seems like an example of asyndeton. The editing is unclear but the treatment is at best confusing and at worst incorrect.
The author claims that "a man who wants to sound like a Rat Packer uses a speak-around when he refers to woman as 'broads'." By "speak-around" the author means "circumlocution" or periphrasis, but using "broad" for "woman is not an example of this. It's not even close, frankly, I'm not sure what the author was even getting at, since he correctly defines periphrasis. (p. 210). By the way, this also illustrates the author's penchant for using his own pet terms for rhetorical terms of art, here "speak-around" for "periphrasis." I find this annoying - jargon is there for a reason, so that people do not have to constantly redefine their terms and can look things up easily - but he does it a lot.
(2) My general philosophical concern with the author's approach is that he comes perilously close to confusing persuasiveness with correctness. It is true that the author's repertoire of techniques are ultimately persuasive to most people, but that's just because most people are not trained in statistical inference and logic and are thus subject to various kinds of cognitive fallacies. But this persuasiveness is not related to the actual correctness of the arguments. At one point the author mentions "formal logic" but does not seem to mean real logic, i.e. mathematical logic, by that; and the author does not generally seem to realize that only by quantitative analysis can correct decisions be arrived at - what he calls "logic" is Aristotlean logic, and there have been considerable developments in logic since Aristotle's time. Of course, the author has no doubt been very successful with his techniques, but I am not sure he fully realizes that what he is doing is not related to actual truth.
(3) The danger of the author's philosophy is apparent in several rather distracting comments throughout the book. Generally, the problem with being persuasive like the author is that he is going to confuse what is popular or widely-believed with what is correct.
(3a) This fallacy is probably most clearly exemplified on page 174, when the author suggests that a politician who votes donor's interests instead of public opinion should not be voted for. As the author puts it, "when the candidate says 'I don't just vote the opinion polls' what she really means is 'I prefer special interests to voters' interests.' ". The flaw here is that the author is conflating public opinion (as measured by opinion polls) with voters' interests. But many issues, most issues in fact, are much too complex for voters to have informed opinions about. The idea of a republican form of government is that representatives with greater time and resources to study the issues can determine what is in voters' interests. Donors who agree with the politician's will of course support her, but these facts alone don't show the politician is acting against voters' interests.
The point is that an opinion poll, or an opinion, is highly relevant to someone like the author who is very interested in persuading people. But it's not that relevant to the issue of what the correct vote would be on an issue.
(3b) Similarly, on page 129 and elsewhere the author constantly confuses or conflates "intelligent design" and "creationism", particularly in a passage arguing that intelligent design should not be taught. But creationism is different from intelligent design: creationism typically denotes a young Earth theory that rarely makes pretensions to being scientific, but intelligent design denotes another theory, one that does claim to be scientific. The fact that some people do not realize that creationism is distinct from intelligent design (although of course some claim the latter is an intellectual descendant of the former) is not a reason to conflate the two.
(3c) On page 183 the author suggests, although he does not directly state, that a Supreme Court justice should have "phronesis" or practical wisdom, and he seems to praise Justices Breyer and O'Connor for being "deliberative thinkers" and for their "practical wisdom." But it's far from clear that, popular opinion to the contrary notwithstanding, the role of Supreme Court Justice should be one of "practical wisdom." Rather, some might argue that the main role of a Supreme Court justice is to ensure that statutes and case law are decided in accordance with the Constitution. Perhaps, I am reading too much into that paragraph, but in conjunction with many somewhat tendentious political positions the author advocates in the book, it's not unreasonable to infer that the author is advocating a legislative role for the justices.
(3d) On page 110, he notes "When President Clinton told the special prosecutor, 'That depends on what your definition of 'is' is' he was redefining a term - in the slickest, most lawyerly way, unfortunately."
There are a whole slew of problems with this statement.
First, the author misquotes Clinton. Clinton said "meaning" not "definition" and "upon" not "on". The reason this is important is that it shows the author, like in all the cases above, is not independently checking facts, and is not having anyone else do it for him. He just sort of assumes that what most people believe, is the case, or he does not care. But if someone is going to accuse a former president of the United States of deceiving or trying to deceive the court, he ought to fact check the quote.
Second, contrary to what most people think, the word "is" is ambiguous. Suppose for example that John and Mary have an intimate relationship, but it has ended last week. Suppose someone asks John "Is there an intimate relationship between you and Mary?" The answer depends on what the definition of the word "is" is.
Third, Clinton was not trying to evade a statement he made. Clinton was asked about his own lawyer's statements in a prior proceeding. Clinton was asked if he agreed with his lawyer's statement. Now, Clinton is not deceiving anyone, because he clearly states that under one definition of "is" he agrees with his lawyer, and another he does not.
In conclusion, there is indeed much useful and much entertaining here. And without a doubt the author has his finger on the pulse of humanity (well, his comments criticizing abbreviations in IM already seem dated, but besides that). And the overwhelming majority of readers will not in the least be put off by any of the concerns I raise. So I think all-in-all it's a good book to read if you want to persuade people.