79 of 87 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2000
Lend Me Your Ears is a collection of speeches, based on topic, from Ancient Greece to Modern America. It is edited by William Safire, an old speech writer for Nixon. Still active in the field, William Safire has some good insight into what makes a great speech and how we can learn from the masters.
In particular, each topic and each speech has an introduction by Mr Safire. In his introduction he explains the background of the speech,why this particular speech is important, and what makes this speech, in his view, so good. For the most part, the book is very well done.
I liked his comments and actually have adopted some of his suggestions for my own speeches. (I am an attorney. I would warn the casual speaker that nothing is worse then read the "best speeches of all time" right before your own presentaton. I made that mistake, once.)
Why not five stars? I thought he could have made some better selections. In particular, he focused heavily on modern America and our politiicans. I am sure, based on his audience, this was/is a smart move. By doing so, however, he deleted some speeches that had more impact, more relevence, and more interest to this reader. Still, this is a minor critic. It is a good book, just not a five star one.
39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on July 3, 2002
William Safire in his LEND ME YOUR EARS does not purport how to tell the novice speaker how to step up to the podium and knock 'em dead with a fluid barrage of words. Instead, his goal is more modest, to figure out why some speeches have reverberated through the acoustic corridors of history while others have fizzled out with nary an echo to record their passing. Surprisingly enough, he acknowledges that a magnificent speaking voice can not turn verbal mush into thrilling oratory. No one knows what Abe Lincoln truly sounded like, but we honor his Gettysburg Address as a sublime example of stirring words. What Safire does is to give the reader a sort of ten commandents that the great speakers of the past must have followed. Ironically, this list is not something that one can examine, nor can compare to what the speaker brings to the podium to exclaim,'Ah ha, this is what I lack!' Among the magical list includes a variation on the old saw, 'Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em; then tell 'em; then tell 'em what you told 'em.' Safire translates this as a smooth flow that invites a rhythm to the delivery. He adds that this smooth flow must not be the smoothness of uninterrupted rhythm; there ought to be a variation that allows the audience to catch a breath at just the right point. Other necessities include occasion (the speaker is at the right point at the right time); forum (the 'where' the speech is given); focus (what's the purpose or point); theme; word choice.
What Safire does with this list is to quote generally agreed upon memorable speeches and list them by category, speeches of patriotism, revolution and war, tributes and elegies, debates, trials, gallows and farewell, sermons, inspirational, lectures, social responsibility, finally closing with speeches of media, politics, and commencement. Each category has some dozen examples, with a prefatory explanatory essay per. Some speeches have the added advantage of having been popularized in the media by recording or rehearsed performance. I can still hear Marlon Brando as Mark Antony in 'Julius Caesar' rousing the crowd to a killing frenzy: 'If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.' Shakespeare used every one of Safire's requirements. Getting Brando to say them was just a bonus. Who can forget Chief Joseph's closing words of the agony he felt over the destruction of his people by the white man: 'From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.' Then there is FDR's war declaration against Japan, replete with its sonorous cadences that begin with the critical phrase, 'day of infamy.'
Great speeches are often not great until after the fact. Lincoln felt that his speech at Gettysburg was a failure since it met only polite applause. Others generate the unmistakable cachet of greatness right away. Reading LEND ME YOUR EARS will not make you a great speaker, but it can give clues as to how and why the power of the spoken word can shake societies to their core.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on January 30, 2000
Although there's a lot of valuable history in its pages, I bought this book because I wanted to become a better speaker. Nothing in here can help you with the delivery of your own speeches, but reading these wonderful extracts of some of the world's greatest speeches can't help but inspire. I especially appreciated Mr. Safire's ability not only to recognize a great speech, but also to define for the reader the qualities that made the sppech great and to place it within a historical perspective. I'm still not a great speaker, and probably never will be, but at least this book has given me plenty of role models.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2000
This is the speaker's cook book. Every great speech since the Sermon on the Mount seems to get a listing, each a beautiful little inspirational recipe for our own fumbling, stuttering, trembling efforts. To cap it all, Safire's editorial contribution is brilliant. He follows his hypnotic introduction with concise and balanaced analysis for each speech. If you are looking for something stirring for the Scout jamboree, something special for cousin Harriet's wedding, or that little extra for Pastor William's Sunday service this is the book for you. I couldn't put the book down. Highly recommended.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2000
This book cannot help but inspire readers and speech writers alike. I've not seen a better collection of speeches that cover the gamut of human emotion and social and political experience. Mr Safire's commentary is insightful and extremely useful for aspiring speech writers, highlighting as it does just what makes each speech 'great'. A must have on my book shelf.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
If there is a better anthology of great speeches, I am not aware of it.
The text from which its title is derived is Mark Antony's speech in Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar, and is included among the hundreds in this volume. Credit Safire with a brilliant job of selecting and then introducing each. He should also be commended on his "An Introductory Address" which offers an exceptionally informative as well as entertaining explanation of eleven "secrets steps" when composing and then presenting a great speech. (i.e. "the meat and potatoes of oratory," "the tricks of the speech trade"). They include the usual suspects such as structure ("shapeliness"), pulse, occasion, "forum" (or venue), focus, etc. Safire adds a few others which, in retrospect, seem obvious but really aren't. For example, the importance of the first step: "Shake hands with your audience...Make the first step a quickstep; get your smile, then get to work." Another: "Cross `em up now and then." Safire suggests that great speeches are meant to be read, not spoken. "What every audience needs is a sense of completion." Therefore, what the speaker needs "is a way out on a high note. That's the necessary ingredient to shapeliness. That calls for peroration [which is] a devastating defense against the dread disease of dribbling off."
It is worth noting that some great speeches had no significant impact when first delivered (e.g. Lincoln's 266-word "Gettysburg Address") and some are delivered only during a dramatic performance (e.g. Antony's funeral oration); however, all great speeches continue to be read and admired long after being written.
I question the greatness of some of Safire's selections for this volume, such as the draft he wrote for President Nixon in case the Apollo XI mission ended in tragedy. Fortunately, the speech (actually a brief statement to be read to a television camera) was never delivered and remained unread at the National Archives until 2001 when it re-appeared as part of a major exhibition. Safire himself does not claim that it is a great speech but selected it because "it shows how the context of a dreaded dramatic occasion can make memorable words written to be spoken aloud." In this instance, the "occasion" rather than the content would have made Nixon's remarks memorable. Read it (pages 1144-1145) and decide for yourself.
Of special interest to me are the following:
"General Patton Motivates the 3rd Army on the Eve of the Invasion of Europe" (pages 551-555)": Actually, this is a "collated address" which provides the essence of dozens of extemporaneous statements by Patton. Those who have seen the opening scene of film are already familiar with Patton's direct approach: "Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country." According to Safire, that statement is actually not in any of the contemporaneous accounts he knows about but "surely sounds like Patton."
"Evangelist Sojourner Truth Speaks for Women's Rights" (pages 684-685): As with Patton's public remarks, there are several different versions and variations of the illiterate former slave's as she traveled throughout the United States preaching "a message that combined religious and abolitionist ideas." To his credit, Safire allows that message to be presented in standard English as presumably she spoke it, without "editorial prettification" (his words) nor "as if I was saying tickety-ump-ump-nicky-nacky" (her words).
"Broadcaster Edward R. Murrow Despairs of the Future of TV Journalism" (pages 771-778): This is what was then (1958) a highly controversial challenge to those who controlled the major networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) to ensure that television programming achieves more, becomes more than "merely wires and lights in a box." Murrow knew that his remarks would "enrage" his and other news journalists' employers. In fact, that was his intention when speaking to the Radio and Television News Directors Association. Safire correctly notes that Murrow's opening line ("This just might do nobody any good") was doubly prophetic: his "heretical and even dangerous thoughts" weakened his authority and influence at CBS while revealing during his speech what someone else in the audience described as "the accents of [Murrow's] despair" concerning the commercialization of broadcast news.
Safire invites his readers to lend their "ears" to Patton, Truth, and Murrow as well as to dozens of others whose speeches can stir our blood (Daniel Webster re Bunker Hill ), sound the clarion of war (Elizabeth I in defiance of the Spanish Armada), honor the memory of illustrious dead (Frederick Douglass on Abraham Lincoln), recall the clash of hot debate (Cicero lashing into Catiline), and nourish our soul (e.g. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount). Safire also includes what he calls "the mother's milk of this anthologist," the political speech. A remarkable variety can be found in Chapter XII (pages 853-1,072) and range from Demosthenes' attack of his accuser to Tony Blair's exhortation to fight terrorism. Safire also includes three "undelivered speeches" in the final chapter, including his draft for Nixon. The other two are President John F. Kennedy's prepared remarks for a luncheon in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and the draft of a speech of contrition which President Clinton rejected, preferring to "move on" instead.
To repeat, if there is a better anthology of great speeches, I am not aware of it.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 1999
For many, the power of the spoken word to shape both lives and instituitions has been little appreciated. In a time of manufactured phrases honed for the constraints of television , the use language, forged from the soul of the speaker, can literally startle in its power and persuasion. This book should humble us.. great orators are the proper actors in the theater of history.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 2004
William Safire has given readers a remarkable gift with this collection. Lend Me Your Ears is very similar to a book of poetry - it is to be treasured, read and referenced over a lifetime; never to be "finished" or forgotten.
This book has broad appeal - especially to fans of history and politics. But, anyone looking for inspiration or uplifting can find an appropriate speech or passage in its pages. And, most importantly, the book cuts both ways across the political divide - one can find speeches from John F. and Robert Kennedy, FDR, Clinton, Lincoln, Churchill, Martin Luther King, and least surprisingly, Nixon, since Safire served as one of his speechwriters. Safire knows the language as well as anyone, probably better than your favorite English teacher, and his marvelous talents as a speechwriter give this book even more credibility. A good speechwriter knows a great speech when he hears it and/or reads it, as Safire shows with his selections in this book. (Point of fact - I'm a proud, liberal Democrat, and I have these feelings about Safire!)
Safire offers introductions and sage commentary before each speech, which I found both enlightening and entertaining. I cannot recommend this book highly enough for anyone interested in great speeches through history. I'm hoping for a revised edition or perhaps a volume II from Safire.
One final note: some criticize the author for speeches omitted in this volume, but a line has to be drawn, or a book on this subject could span thousands of pages. Keep in mind, this book contains great speeches in Safire's opinion; it's not an end-all-be-all list of great historic speeches.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Aside from the great speeches ( two hundred of them ) that constitute this volume and are its heart, there is also the informative introductory commentary of William Safire. This commentary serves not only as guide to each particular speech, but in general terms as a kind of extended essay on the art of speechmaking. And Safire makes it clear throughout that he views speechmaking as an art.
The anthology contains the great standard political speeches, Pericles, Demosthenes, Burke , Lincoln . It contains elegies and tributes, sermons , speeches of social responsibility, media speeches, speeches which mark out landmark occaisions in history.
This is a classic work which is made up of classic works. And in it is a must- have work for anyone who wishes to understand and know the art of speechmaking.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2005
If and when you first get this book, you'll find that it reads easily and fascinatingly from cover to cover. The real proof of the book's value, however, will come in the number of times that you pick it up off of the shelf and re-read favorite speeches. I've had my copy for several years now, and I have repeatedly referenced it whenever I needed inspiration.
No amount of general tutelage about the use of rhetoric can substitute for the instructive and emotive power of experiencing the great speeches of history. And this book includes one terrific, landmark speech, one after the other.
They come in all stripes: great political speeches, speeches of conscience and courage, and even some hilariously funny ones, among others.
A few notes on a few of the selections:
Lincoln's great speeches are here. For my money, the Second Inaugural is even more thrilling than the Gettysburg Address.
Martin Luther King's noble and inspiring "I Have a Dream" speech is here, of course, but it's worth reading time and again despite its familiarity. Everyone hears the climax of this speech repeated so frequently on video, that the balance and brilliant flow of the longer speech is sometimes forgotten. It is beautiful from start to finish, not just at the end.
I have a particular fondness for speeches of defiance and courage. Elizabeth I's speech to her troops as they prepared to face the Spanish Armada is amazing; you'll be ready to march to hell for her blindfolded after you read it. Nathan Sharansky's moving and courageous speech as he is about to be sentenced to a gulag by a Soviet court is a reminder of the power of conscience. I myself am not terribly religious, but I am thrilled by Martin Luther's speech wherein he defends his religious writings. It is a speech of courage and conviction that should inspire people of all creeds.
There is also some great hilarious stuff in here also. One speech on the Senate floor mocking the glories of a pork project in Duluth, Minnesota, will have you in stitches. And for those who are looking for the perfect put-down, look no further than the speech of William Pitt the Elder in response to an elderly member of the House of Commons: "Sir, the atrocious crime of being a young man, which the honorable gentleman has with such spirit and decency charged upon me, I shall neither attempt to palliate nor deny, but content myself with wishing that I may be one of those whose follies may cease with their youth, and not of that number who are ignorant in spite of experience." Slam!
Read, savor, and learn -- time and again.