Book Review – How to Win an Argument, An Ancient Guide to the Art of Persuasion, by Marcus Tullius Cicero – selected, edited and translated by James M. May

First published, 2016

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When I was in my mid-twenties, a friend bought me a metal sign to hang in my house. It read, ‘I don’t need other people around to have an argument.’

She knew me so well.

I will say, for those who might think this book is a guide to winning any argument – it is, but under very specific circumstances. There is no winning one-liner to finish the opposition and have them scurrying back to some unknown spot, for a vigorous round of wound-licking, contained within these pages.

In fact, what Cicero does is break down every aspect of a good speech – whether it is used for a summing up for the jury, or a difference of opinion with a friend. A great speaker must have some natural talent, the ability to sprinkle some glitter on his words, and charm. A great speaker must practise his skills in order to make his performance flawless. He must have a world-beating memory, a working understanding of any number of subjects – not limited to the one he is speaking about, but encompassing pretty much everything that may or may not come up. Each of the skills a great speaker must possess would take a lifetime to learn, and there are many of them to master.

I would have thought this book should be recommended reading for every would-be lawyer, politician and business leader in the world. I’m not any of those things but, now that I’ve read the book, I suppose anything is possible.