The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking Like a Professional, by Philip A. Yaffe (Softcover, 2010)|
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want a hardcopy)
Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
One of my favorite references for writers is The Elements of Style,
by Strunk and White. I believe Professor Strunk would, if he were alive
today, have nice things to say about this book by Yaffe. In fact, Yaffe
espouses the same core concepts of writing.
This isn't a remake, however, of TES. It's an original work, and it's
well done. It's also badly needed in this era of semi-literacy and poor
speaking. Anyone who communicates with other human beings can benefit
from reading this book and applying the lessons therein.
As the title suggests, the author bases his book on the writing
approach Lincoln used when composing the Gettysburg Address. Yaffe
explains this approach clearly, and distills the principles into a few
formulas that the reader can easily remember and apply. He also provides
examples to illustrate "before" and "after," and I found those
One thing that struck me as odd about Yaffe's analysis of the
Gettysburg address is he does not address Lincoln's deliberate misuse of
words. The reason for giving the Gettysburg address was to boost support
for Lincoln's war. Historians tell us that public support was waning,
and Lincoln badly needed a victory. He finally got that victory. He had,
in fact, written the Gettysburg address in anticipation of it (not
because he was so moved afterwards that he sat down and penned the
While it's true that Lincoln gave an amazing and powerful speech,
it's also true that Lincoln lied while doing so. Consequently, even
today people mistakenly refer to his war as "The American Civil War." By
definition, however, this was not a civil war. In a civil war,
insurgents seize the means of governing. Recall that the Confederate
States didn't seize the capital, but seceded from the union and set up
their own capital.
We can all agree that Ulysses S. Grant knew a thing or two about this
war. Not once in his (extensive) memoirs did he refer to it as a civil
war, but always as "the war between the states" or something similar. I
think when you cover a speech that has propagated a manipulative lie as
successfully as this one has, you need to address that issue somehow.
Maybe a future edition can do this, with a new appendix for that
This book consists of 236 pages, 107 of which are appendices. That's
a large appendix to text ratio, but don't be put off by it. In fact,
it's a good thing.
Many years ago, I got involved in a project of revamping all of the
maintenance procedures for a large, multi-plant manufacturing facility.
I'd already earned my stripes as a writer, yet was always open to new
ideas on how to improve. My boss on this project observed that most of
the text in a typical procedure contains details people value but don't
need to read to do the job. Instead of adding value, this extra detail
detracted from the value of the procedure. He suggested this might be
why we had a zero compliance rate with our procedures.
Yaffe talks about the pyramid way of writing, meaning you put the
important information first. He walks the talk by doing this with those
appendices. We did the same thing to solve our procedure problem.
Imagine a writing book bloated with things for you to wade through.
It would not exactly a good example, would it? Yaffe's example is such a
clear example of how to organize information that you don't even need to
read the book to learn something that would vastly improve the
performance of the typical writer or public speaker.
Don't be put off by the fact that Yaffe didn't bloat the main text
with things for you to wade through. Strunk and White didn't believe in
bloated text either, and their book is consequently a highly readable
and useable resource for writers who wish to excel. For this, and other
reasons, Yaffe's book is also a highly readable and useable resource for
writers who wish to excel. And it goes beyond that to flip the writing
coin over and address its other side: speaking.
I spent several years on the rubber chicken circuit, and honed my
speaking style considerably. Why? Because I endured Death by Powerpoint
and other abuses inflicted by "speakers" in many other meetings. I
wanted to do better than that. So I developed a set of speaking
principles. Yaffe hits those principles exactly on target.
If you don't communicate with other people, then you probably won't
miss anything by not reading this book. On the other hand, if you live
on planet Earth then this book is well worth the cover price. Read it,
study it, apply it. You'll be glad you did.