Monday, March 15, 2010

Book Club... And Then Some!

Speech-Less: Tales of a White House Survivor
Matt Latimer

Book Review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

I immediately sought out this book when I read parts of it at my father-in-law’s house. He had just received Speech-Less: Tales of a White House Survivor as a gift, and I read a portion of it that I wanted to include in the public-speaking chapters of the tenth edition of my book, Communicating Effectively (McGraw-Hill, 2009), on which I am currently at work. What I didn’t realize was what a wonderful, funny, honest (and, generally, non-partisan) work of art this book truly was. I say “work of art” simply because Latimer is such a gifted writer. His insights, insider information, and the examples he uses are truly revealing and enjoyable.

He is so open, honest, and straightforward, and although these are, indeed, Latimer’s own viewpoints and opinions, you quickly grow to trust his perceptions. I was fascinated, as were other reviewers, to read Latimer's views of Rumsfeld, Chaney, Bush, Colin Powell, Condi Rice and many other of the big names in the Bush administration. The book is 294 pages long, and it includes an index. Once you get started reading it, however, you won’t be able to put it down. As a writer of speeches for myself (never for others), I am somewhat awestruck that anyone could get as excited and enthusiastic as Latimer (or any other speechwriter, for that matter) about writing speeches to celebrate non-events. Oh, I realize there is no such thing as a true “non-event,” but what I mean are trivial, commonplace, celebrations of little importance to the world. I guess being close to the president of the United States, working for him directly, and knowing that you have to perform (prove yourself with) the little assignments to get the big ones that have the potential of making a major difference, is sufficient.

It was for Latimer; however, his experience as a speechwriter was disappointing: “Still, I wasn’t satisfied with my overall experience in the White House,” he writes. “I’d hoped I’d come on board, impress everyone, and craft the great speeches I’d dreamed of since childhood. That wasn’t happening. In fact, the speeches for the most part were disappointment. And the speechwriting process at the White House was nothing like I’d expected it to be” (p. 179).

Nonetheless, moving among the power brokers of the world—and being depended upon by them—was a serious “head trip” for Latimer like when he said, “Knowing that I was dying to meet the vice president..” (p. 172). You must understand that I have not just a little distaste, but a huge and overwhelming dislike (revulsion), for the people of the administration of which Latmer writes; however, I must add at once, his “no-holds-barred,” full-disclosure, honest descriptions of all the characters is refreshing. Of Cheney, Latimer wrote, “I liked the guy from the outset. I truly did. And unlike many people in the administration, he never once did anything that caused me to change my mind” (p. 174). His admiration of Cheney and Rumsfeld, I might add, surprises me, just as his total dislike of Colin Powell, Jimmy Carter, and all liberals. But that doesn’t destroy the entertainment value of the book! It is a real pleasure to read great writing that flows well, engages you, and regularly tickles your funny bone.


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