Words Like Loaded Pistols

The Power of Rhetoric from the Iron Age to the Information Age


By Sam Leith

Read by Alan Medcroft

Formats and Prices





  1. Audiobook Download (Unabridged) $27.99
  2. ebook $12.99 $16.99 CAD
  3. Trade Paperback $19.99 $24.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around May 9, 2023. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

“An entertaining history of great oratory” (New Yorker) and a primer to rhetoric’s key techniques
Rhetoric gives our words the power to inspire. But it’s not just for politicians: it’s all around us, whether you’re buttering up a key client or persuading your children to eat their vegetables. You have been using rhetoric yourself, all your life. After all, you know what a rhetorical question is, don’t you?
In Words Like Loaded Pistols, Sam Leith traces the art of argument from ancient Greece through the present day. He introduces verbal villains from Hitler to Donald Trump—and the three musketeers: ethos, pathos, and logos. He explains how rhetoric works in speeches from Cicero to Zelensky and pays tribute to the rhetorical brilliance of AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” Before you know it, you’ll be confident in chiasmus and proud of your panegyrics—because rhetoric is useful, relevant, and crucial to understanding the world around us.


  • "Delightful and illuminating.... Words Like Loaded Pistols sports a fabulous assortment of examples of time-tested rhetorical gambits in action.... The marvel is not that the old techniques still work, but that we ever persuaded ourselves that we could do without them."
  • "Timed for a presidential election year, this sassy, smart book outlines and illustrates nearly every rhetorical trope and flourish related to the art of persuasion.... Leith can be fiendishly entertaining."
    Publishers Weekly
  • "Leith brings to life a forgotten but eternally essential subject.... Leith uses every tool in the rhetorician's arsenal to argue for rhetoric's continuing relevance.... Readers will gain a great deal of insight into how humans use communication to get what they want...the book fulfills Cicero's three objectives of rhetoric: 'to move, educate, and delight.'"
    Kirkus Reviews

On Sale
May 9, 2023
Hachette Audio

Sam Leith

About the Author

Sam Leith is the literary editor of the Spectator whose work has appeared in the Times, the Guardian, the TLS, and the New York Times, among other outlets. He is the author of several books, including Write to the Point: How to Be Clear, Correct, and Persuasive on the Page. He lives in London.

Learn more about this author