Book by Jason Del Gandio, 2008
Reviewed in December 2008 Research Update


Don’t be frightened away by the title of this book. Rhetoric for Radicals is a critical, easy-to-read, and thorough guide to communicating that will be useful for anybody whose work involves advocacy, education and awareness, or movement-building.

Why rhetoric? What does it mean to employ rhetorical skills – and how can it help? This book starts with an analysis of what rhetoric really means. Rhetoric is, according to author Jason Del Gandio, three things: Rhetoric is persuasive – it looks at how to establish common ground, create logical arguments, mobilize, inspire, and motivate. Rhetoric is discursive and analytical – this means that rhetoric studies what people say, how they say it, and what the effects are, for example, what are the effects of using the term “collateral damage” as opposed to “civilian casualties” when speaking about war? Rhetoric creates our realities – rhetoric shapes our lives because our language, thoughts, signs, symbols, stories, perceptions, and actions shape our lives, and rhetoric is a part of all of those.

Viewing rhetoric in this way, the author makes it clear how learning to use rhetoric can be a useful tool for those of us who work to make a better world. The book is full of strategies, tips, outlines, and explanations about how to become better at rhetoric, and how to use it in your work.
The second chapter goes over the basics of the “rhetorical package” – your message, your audience, your strategy, your goal, and the situation. It also provides tips about writing and public speaking, and introduces four different rhetorical approaches: persuasion, argumentation, invitation, and storytelling. The techniques and tools outlined in this chapter are simple yet complex, and utterly useful.

Have you ever found yourself struggling to articulate exactly what it is your campaign or organization will do? Chapter 3, on the Power of Language, might help. It discusses how language affects the message and its reception. This chapter looks at why certain phrases and terms have had such an effect while others are easily forgotten, and how we can frame our message to be powerful ones. Yes, please!

Another chapter looks at how body language works – from protests, to street theatre, to individual conversations, our bodies tell just as much of a story as our voices. This chapter offers some advice on how to observe, reflect, experi-ment, and apply different styles of physical communication.

Rhetoric for Radicals differs from a lot of other how-to books. It doesn’t stop at being prescriptive – telling us what to do. Instead, it explains how and why we need to harness rhetoric in our work; and how and why it will work. This book provides our sector with another tool in the toolbox for change: uncovering the power of rhetoric, learning how to frame messages powerfully and practicing strategic communication skills can elevate the profile of the important work of the non-profit, social agency sector in our community.

For open-minded readers, this book can be a valuable tool, but it is by no means neutral, and takes a bold political stance. It examines history, it critiques our current political reality, and it openly and unabashedly puts the political project of radically changing our society front and centre. This book is part of a revolutionary project, as the author puts it, “Above all, I hope this book starts a revolution. […]Rhetoric is not the be-all and end-all for social change and Rhetoric for Radicals is not a blueprint for revolution. But rhetoric is a necessary component and this book can help us move in that direction. With that in mind, I say to everyone: Radical rhetors of the world, unite!


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