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Monday, 18 May 2015


My review of this book appeared in Tribune in June, 2011.

Michael O’Mara  £9.99
For a book on significant speeches published in 2011 to end in 2008 indicates, even with a time lag for editing, proofing and printing, that no one has set the world on fire with scintillating oratory in the last couple of years.  Depending on your point of view, the world is going through some global menopausal change or to hell in a handcart, ideal circumstances, therefore, for a great leader to step up onto the podium and rouse us, stiffen our sinews and encourage us to imitate the actions of a tiger. But where is such a person in our hour of need?  

This book, with a distinct lack of Blair, Brown, Cameron or Clegg, presents us with some of history’s most powerful words from the ancient Greeks to Barack Obama.  To get the greatest benefit from the book however, the speeches must tickle your inner Olivier and be read out loud, otherwise the words lie flat and lifeless.  Choose your moment and location with care! 

The book includes speeches from Oliver Cromwell, Napoleon Bonaparte, Abraham Lincoln, Emmeline Pankhurst, Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, JFK and Malcolm X to name a few.  It is impossible not to be moved, inspired, incensed or outraged by some of the messages within.  There are many examples of great speeches like Elizabeth I’s review of the army at Tilbury, full of passion and commitment as she vows “to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust”.  

Fast forward to Colonel Tim Collins addressing his troops as they awaited the order to advance in the Iraq war and we hear well-prepared but nonetheless effective and morale-boosting rhetoric including “if you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory.”  

Patrick Pearse, the Irish Nationalist, railed against the British at the graveside of a fellow patriot: “They have left us with our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree will never be at peace.”  

The great political lovers, Thatcher and Reagan feature too.  Maggie’s “the lady’s not for turning” performance and Ronnie’s “tear down this (Berlin) wall” showpiece give an indication of the bullishness of the 1980s.  

As the book’s title suggests, Martin Luther King’s great “dream’ rhetoric stills packs a punch. At the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, as he shouted out “Thank God, we are free at last”, the crowd would have walked through fire for him and with him. 

Nostalgia can be a major distortion today, but who would we follow without question in 2011?  Who commands our deepest trust and respect?  This book reminds us about past greatness and about the weaknesses of modern leadership in a world that is crying out for trustworthy politicians who really give a damn about the people.

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