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Books

11 Best Books on Rhetoric in 2022 (The Ultimate List!)

Jamey Muller
Updated: March 22, 2022
8 min read

One of the original liberal arts, rhetoric is the craft of persuading through communication. It is foundational to critical thinking, shaping identity, culture, and experience.

The following books on rhetoric are excellent sources of information on thinking logically and delivering compelling oral and print texts.

At A Glance: The 3 Best Books on Rhetoric

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Top pick
The Art of Rhetoric (Penguin Classics)
The Art of Rhetoric

Widely acknowledged as the fundamental textbook in studying rhetoric is Aristotle’s “The Art of Rhetoric.”

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The book has shaped the conception of the theory and practice of the art of persuasive speech for thousands of years and remains a most incisive work until today.

The earliest systematic treatment of rhetoric, it explores the concept of persuasive speech in the context of ancient Athens.

During the fourth century, the democratic city-state in Greece consisted of a large group of ordinary citizens who listened to speeches, pro and con.

After deliberating, they each cast a vote that crafted laws and settled court cases.

Aristotle advocated persuasion via spoken word as the medium for conducting politics.

In “The Art of Rhetoric,” the philosopher started off with a treatise on the basic principles of rhetoric, then its relation to associated fields such as politics, psychology, and ethics.

You will learn how to devise arguments that stir emotions, at the same time, validate your credibility as a persuasive speaker.

A compelling guide on the art of informal reasoning, it is a book you should read at least once in your lifetime.

Runner up
Thank You for Arguing, Fourth Edition (Revised and Updated): What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion
Thank You for Arguing

Jay Heinrichs wrote this witty guide on the art of persuasion as obtained from history’s most notable instructors like Queen Victoria and Barrack Obama.

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“Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion” delivers the principles of rhetoric clearly and simply. 

It covers proven techniques on rhetorical speech, including Cicero’s three-step strategy and Abraham Lincoln’s Shameless Trick.

These two strategies are guaranteed to move your audience to action and lower their expectations enough so that you surprise them in the end.

You will also find assortments of contemporary techniques, including The Yoda Technique, The Belushi Paradigm, and The Chandler Bing Adjustment. 

There is even a chapter dedicated to figures of speech and how to use them to your advantage.

For specific groups, “Thank You for Arguing” contains Heinrichs’ dark arts of persuasion, like politicians’ use of coded language.

It has also been updated to tackle the culture of the political divide and fake news.

This is a scholarly book with valuable instructions on wielding your persuasive weapons to get your own way.

Also great
A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms
A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms

“A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms” is Richard A. Lanham’s one of many contributions in the art of persuasive speech.

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The book has been widely used by Western literature and rhetoric students for over two decades and has been reprinted many times.

Lanham created a single, convenient volume to house all the rhetorical terms, mainly in Greek and Latin, that you will likely encounter across your reading.

This second edition contains new features, including a complete revision of the revised alphabetical listing of over 1,000 terms on formal rhetoric. 

You will also find an improved system of cross-references between terms and terms-by-type listing for unfamiliar vocabulary. 

The new typography allows for easier access.

New examples and extended entries have been added for your perusal.

“A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms” is an in-depth book that is not entirely accessible as some explanations tend to be too cerebral.

The profundity by which terms are explained, in complete detail and some with pronunciation guides, make up for your effort.

Without a doubt, this is a valuable reference resource for classical rhetoric.

#4
Cicero: Rhetorica ad Herennium (Loeb Classical Library No. 403) (English and Latin Edition)
Rhetorica ad Herennium

Another classic on the list is Cicero’s “Rhetorica ad Herennium,” a definitive text covering the structure and usage of rhetoric and persuasion.

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The book was traditionally credited to Cicero, a Roman scholar, and statesman, reflecting his Hellenistic rhetorical teaching.

It served as the standard school book on rhetoric during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, utilized in conjunction with another of Cicero’s masterpieces, “De Inventione.”

The work centers on the practical applications of rhetoric. 

You will learn the types of causes you must address as a persuasive speaker, the standard format for creating your arguments, and the most effective rhetoric style for particular oratory purposes.

Clear and precise, “Rhetorica ad Herennium” also contains a detailed dictionary of rhetorical figures, complete with examples.

The book is arranged systematically, like a technical manual. There are four parts filled with extensive discussion on how to be a master orator.

It also contains the well-known section on memory and the method of loci, a mnemonic device used in the ancient Roman and Greek rhetorical discourses.

The oldest known book on rhetoric, it deserves its place on your shelf.

#5
Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, 4th Edition
Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student

Edward P. J. Corbett and Robert J. Connors’ “Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student” is an indispensable guide on advanced composition and rhetoric.

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The book covers the history and basics of rhetorical principles while providing excellent examples of classic and contemporary persuasive speeches.

There are five parts.

You will find discourses on the elements of classical rhetoric and their practical application for effective writing.

There are also discussions on the techniques and strategies of argumentation, effective presentation of the treatise, and development of expression.

The examples provided are reinforced with detailed analyses. The pieces range from paragraphs to complete essays, from classic to modern.

This fourth edition features a new section on progymnasmata or classic rhetorical exercises and an updated review of the history of rhetoric. 

You will also appreciate the updated section on “External Aids to Invention.”

“Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student” demonstrates how the ancient art of rhetoric can be used to today’s students in persuasive discourse.

It is a timeless text that will help you become a proficient writer.

#6
A Rhetoric of Motives
A Rhetoric of Motives

“A Rhetoric of Motives” is part of literary theorist Kenneth Burke’s planned trilogy, “On Human Relations,” that was never completed.

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The book explores the principle of symbolic action, where man is described as a symbol-using being. 

If the first book, “A Grammar of Motives,” dwells on the systematic analysis and critical vocabulary of complex linguistic forms, such as plays and stories, “A Rhetoric of Motives” focuses on exploring all human activities.

According to Burke, all your actions, whether linguistic or extra-linguistic, are your modes of symbolizing. 

Since the focus is on the relationship between persuasion and identification, it focuses more on rhetoric than grammar.

Burke explained that for a critic, the goal is to interpret the meaning behind all these human symbolizing in whatever field they could be found.

This is a way to explain human motivations.

“A Rhetoric of Motives” has three parts.

The first section discusses Burke’s key concepts on identification and consubstantiality, while the second reworks those theories by analyzing diverse texts from Machiavelli and Dante.

The third part works on establishing the idea of forms that are typical of the rhetorical process.

Every rhetoric addict needs to read this brilliant book.

#7
You Talkin' To Me?: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Trump and Beyond ...
You Talkin’ To Me?

This illuminating book on the techniques of the art of persuasion was written by Sam Leith.

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“You Talkin’ To Me?: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Trump and Beyond…” examines how people have practiced rhetoric from ancient to modern times.

Using a range of examples from history involving Aristotle, Cicero, and Homer Simpson, the book highlights how the tools and techniques of persuasion have been forgotten over the years.

Leith talked about how rhetoric is an ancient skill that generations upon generations have recognized and used.

He emphasized that rhetoric gives words power, enumerating the ways you can improve on your persuasive speeches for your benefit.

You will appreciate Leith’s style in writing, accessible and frequently humorous, while obviously brimming with knowledge on the topic.

“You Talkin’ To Me?” can be read by anyone interested in persuasive speaking and writing. 

There are plenty of excellent analyses and examples to aid your learning.

If you are looking for a light text on rhetoric, this book comes highly recommended.

#8
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
Made to Stick

“Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip and Dan Heath is an accessible, practical guide to effective communication.

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The book reveals the secret on why some ideas thrive, and some do not. 

It explores why urban legends, fake news, and conspiracy theories stick and circulate effortlessly while the significant contributions by journalists and entrepreneurs tend to miss the mark.

Heath and Heath dug deep into the anatomy of this mystery, enumerating the ways you can make your ideas “stickier.”

These techniques include the Velcro Theory of Memory, the human scale principle, and creating curiosity gaps.

According to “Made to Stick,” sticky messages draw influence from the same six traits – simplicity, concreteness, emotions, credibility, unexpectedness, and stories.

You will find a hilarious hodge-podge of success and failure stories, from the charities riding on Mother Teresa’s coattails to a scientist who slurped a glassful of bacteria to prove a point about stomach ulcers.

Provocative and eye-opening, this New York Times bestseller is essential reading in this fake news era.

#9
The Elements of Eloquence
The Elements of Eloquence

Mark Forsyth wrote this highly entertaining book on the art of articulation, featuring fascinating anecdotes across history.

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“The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase” exposes the enigma behind the hit pop lyrics and advertising slogans and how they were deemed memorable by the people.

It highlights the importance of style in a time where everyone is obsessed with substance.

Forsyth examined famous lines, taking them apart to show you how you can write just as well.

According to him, the secret is not in what you say. It is how you say it well.

There are 39 chapters in the book.

They contain precise techniques on how to be eloquent, such as enallage and hyperbaton.

You will also find humorous examples, from quotes by Athenian orator Demosthenes to the lyrics of Dolly Parton.

“The Elements of Eloquence” points out that powerful rhetorical devices are everywhere. You just need the tools so you can use them to your advantage.

#10
Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric
Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric

“Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric” is a veritable guide to make your words effective, emphatic, and memorable.

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Written by Ward Farnsworth, the book discusses how the use of rhetorical figures or patterns can improve your delivery, whether orally or in written form.

It demonstrates how the principles of rhetoric from Ancient Greece can be as effective in the present day. 

The discussion draws examples from famous orators like Lincoln and Churchill and master novelists like Dickens and Melville.

Farnsworth talked about how rhetorical figures are usually departures from standard statements. 

These could be repeated words, framing words using random sequences, and leaving common words out.

Rhetorical devices can also be applied in writing simple sentences and paragraphs, or if you prefer, entire compositions. 

You can use variety, suspense, and the creation of expectations, among others.

“Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric” analyzes the most frequently used rhetorical devices with detail and demonstrates their practical use.

It is an excellent reference for anyone who wants to be a better speaker or writer.

#11
They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us
They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us

“They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us” by Hanif Abdurraqib is a profound collection of essays that merges music, culture, sports, and politics.

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The book uses timely write ups as a lens to view the world so you might better understand yourself.

The collection contains previously published works and original, unreleased essays mirroring the political realities of the time.

You will find commentaries on music and feminism, autobiographies, pieces on race and religion, and America’s modern state of affairs.

Abdurraqib wrote with great sincerity and poignancy, forging deep and unexpected connections between seemingly different topics.

Interspersed are his personal experiences. He recalled his years as a music-loving, young Muslim after learning of the Paris nightclub attacks.

Just as “They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us” explores a broad range of albums, songs, and musicians, it also analyzes sports, literature, and social issues.

When discussing the lives of Black Americans, Abdurraqib recounted the time he was detained by the police for attempting to enter his own car.

Magnetic and refreshingly written, this book is an absolute joy to read.

Written by
Jamey Muller
I'm the head-writer @ Knowledge Eager (or, in plain English, I'm the guy writing the majority of the content here). Addicted to the stock market, football, sushi and tacos.
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Jamey Muller
I'm the head-writer @ Knowledge Eager (or, in plain English, I'm the guy writing the majority of the content here). Addicted to the stock market, football, sushi and tacos.