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Words That Work

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


The Bottom Line

Frank Luntz is an expert in the field of persuasive communication, what academics would call rhetoric. As a pollster and a consultant to businesses and politicians, he has copious practical experience, and shares the essentials of his craft in this fast-paced book written for the general reader. His observations are particularly valuable for people in marketing, corporate communications and public relations, as well as for anyone who wants to write and speak more convincingly.

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  • Clear, direct writing style. A fast read.
  • Excellent case studies and examples illustrate the author's points.
  • The writer is an authority in the field, a top pollster and communications consultant.


  • The book could be tightened up, removing some repetition.
  • Has peaks and valleys in the level of interest that it maintains.
  • Writing mainly about his own projects, the author can sound self-promoting at times.


  • Case studies in rhetoric, or the art of persuasive communication.
  • The subtitle says it all: "It's not what you say, it's what people hear."
  • Experts in rhetoric may find few surprises in this book, but it is a useful primer for those who are not.

Guide Review - Words That Work

I first learned of this book, and of Frank Luntz himself, by listening to NPR's Fresh Air hosted by Terry Gross. Luntz was her guest on a show originally broadcast on January 9, 2007. It was an exceptionally interesting and illuminating discussion about how to communicate and argue persuasively. I found Luntz to be a very effective teacher, and decided to read the book for myself. I was not disappointed.

The subtitle of Words That Work is a bit lengthy, but it encapsulates the overarching message of the book: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear. In other words, to communicate well, to persuade people, you have to understand what associations your words conjure, and whether these associations make your case, undermine it, or just leave the audience cold.

Later in the day that I heard the interview with Luntz, I checked several leading online booksellers. I saw a flood of alleged reviews, overwhelmingly negative, that were posted within minutes of the conclusion of the interview. Had these people really obtained and read the book at the speed of light? Of course not. They objected to Luntz's political beliefs and associations (about which he was entirely forthcoming, both in the interview and in the book), and thus decided to shout him down, in effect. Independent thinker and contrarian that I am, this made me even more interested in reading the book. When narrow-minded, hyper-partisan people try to stifle debate, I want to hear what they're trying to censor. The jacket blurbs, by the way, include endorsements from Senator John Kerry and Al Franken, two people in the opposite corner politically from Luntz. These folks are smart enough to recognize that you can learn a lot from people with whom you disagree.

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