I read a lot, but it’s rare that I come across a book that I just can not put down. The Elements of Eloquence: How To Turn The Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth was one of those books. I read the whole thing in less than 24 hours, deftly ignoring deadlines, emails, and people screaming in my face in order to accomplish this. It was worth it.
As a writer, I’m interested in the technical information in the book - how some of the best authors in history utilized these building blocks called the figures of rhetoric in their craft. The author doesn’t explain every figure in existence — just some of the ones more commonly used. What’s great about this book is how the author provides specific examples from classic literature, and those frequently come from the works of the Bard, himself. What better example could we have?
Aside from the fascinating content, what makes this book unique is the engaging manner in which it’s written. Forsyth makes learning about the figures of speech fun and entertaining. He cracks jokes and doesn’t take himself or the language too seriously. Some of my favorite quotes from the book:
“When healthy people fall in love, they buy a bunch of flowers or an engagement ring and go Do Something About It. When poets fall in love, they make a list of their loved one’s body parts and attach similes to them.”
“Polyptoton remains incorrigibly unsexy.”
“Lawyers are like Cole Porter and Alfred Lord Tennyson with a blender.”
“I would no more write without art because I didn’t need to, than I would wander outdoors naked just because it was warm enough.”
If you’re a word nerd, purveyor of prose, or literature lover, such as myself, then you should check out this book. Note: I just used several of the elements of rhetoric in that last sentence, but I won’t tell you which ones or how many. You’ll have to read the book for yourself to figure it out!
If you know a writer or English teacher, this book would make a great gift. If you fit into one of these categories or you're just a word junkie like me, then buy it for yourself.