Audiobook Review: Great Courses: The Art Of Public Speaking: Lessons From The Greatest Speeches In History

Great Courses:  The Art Of Public Speaking:  Lessons From The Greatest Speeches In History, taught by Professor John R. Hale

Admittedly, I am not the intended audience of this particular course, since it is focused on encouraging a greater respect for and interest in public speaking to people who might fear it [1].  Despite being a fairly anxious person as a general rule, I am probably less anxious speaking in public than I am in normal social conversation, which is quite unusual, I suppose.  The speaker is one who manages to have an intriguing and complicated perspective that I have generally positive feelings about, since he is devoutly religious, an archaeologist with quirky research interests, and is someone with profoundly egalitarian social views as far as issues of race and gender are concerned.  Yet this course likely does depend to a great deal on how someone appreciates the instructor and his perspective.  I found the course to have a wide variety of speeches and a generally thoughtful view of how to make one’s own addresses better, all of which made it an enjoyable course for me to listen to, but those listeners who are offended by the author’s obvious fondness for subaltern voices will likely find this course less enjoyable.

This course consists, as is common among the Great Courses, of twelve lectures of half an hour each on 6 cds.  Each of the lectures has a particular focus on a particular speech but also mentions other speeches to add context or contrast.  Demosthenes of Athens shows the listener how to overcome obstacles to being a good speaker (1).  Patrick Henry provides the chance to practice one’s delivery of a speech to gain the biggest response (2).  Elizabeth I shows how one can be one’s self and lean into one’s weaknesses and turn them into strengths (3), while Will Rogers turns an ordinary donor’s dinner into an extraordinary comic speech of genius (4).  Marie Curie shows how one can make a story out of any subject, even the seemingly dull one of the discovery of radium (5), while Paul uses the rule of threes in conveying memorable knowledge to the readers in 1 Corinthians 13 (6) concerning faith, hope, and love.  Susan B. Anthony builds a (mostly) logical case for women’s suffrage (7) while Tecumseh uses dramatic word pictures to attempt (unsuccessfully) to oppose the westward pull of American empire (8).  Gandhi shows the audience through his closing argument in a treason trial how to focus on one’s audience(s) (9) while Martin Luther King Jr. uses ethos and some borrowed feathers to share a dream (10).  Mark Antony (per Shakespeare) changes minds and hearts through pathos (11) while Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address calls for positive action (12).

In appreciating this course, there are several layers of what is the instructor is trying to convey.  On the broad scale, the professor wishes for people to appreciate good rhetoric (and not consider rhetoric as a pejorative term) and to feel confident in engaging in public speaking in professional and political causes.  Given this, the author’s choice of political figures is rather telling.  Demosthenes sought to encourage Athens to stand up to Philip of Macedon and was unsuccessful.  Elizabeth I was a queen–clearly the instructor was aiming for strong women here.  Susan B. Anthony spoke in favor of political rights for women, while Marie Curie was an example of a highly decorated female scientist.  Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr are well regarded icons of anti-colonialism and anti-racism (although Gandhi was not as enlightened in other aspects of his political life) and on it goes.  The instructor is winsome and easy to appreciate, although it is clear that the author is selecting people as good examples of rhetoric who happen to represent certain political perspectives that the author is congenial to, and not all listeners are likely to share his perspective.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Audiobook Review: Great Courses: The Art Of Public Speaking: Lessons From The Greatest Speeches In History

  1. Pingback: How To Appeal To Nathan Albright: A Case Study In Logos, Ethos, And Pathos | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Audiobook Review: Pitch Perfect | Edge Induced Cohesion

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