Joe Romm’s “Language Intelligence” Is Great Is Great Is Great

I just bought and read the Kindle version of Joe Romm’s new book on rhetoric “Language Intelligence”.

He has persuaded me to pay more attention to headlines. For one, from this post on, I will go with the convention of beginning all words in the headline with capital characters.

The book tells people how to write and speak better. I learned that Joe Romm doesn’t write his “Climate Progress” blog. He dictates all of his blog posts (and all his books) using voice recognition software  (location 108).

I don’t do that. But I can still use most of the principles Romm explains.

For example, repetition. I used that in the headline here.

And the use of metaphors. I just built myself a new one yesterday (before reading the book). Another strong metaphor would be “asteroid impact”. I will post an excerpt from “Great News” using that right after this.

Romm mentions the “baseball player on steroids” metaphor. He somehow fails to mention the “loaded dice”.

And the whole book lacks a chapter dedicated to putting all the abstract concepts in it to use for climate change activism. What exactly is the most effective “extended metaphor” or “frame” for this issue?

Readers are left on their own finding the answer to that.

A pretty large part of the discussion uses examples from the Bible, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga to explain the concepts.

As Romm shows, the Bible uses effective language. There is a reason it is the most printed book ever and has survived many centuries.

That in turn means that people studying the Bible will, on average, be more effective in their communications. That may be a strategic advantage of the religious right in the United States.

Romm gives conflicting goals for his writing the book. At location 2033, he writes:

“My goal has been to help you become more persuasive and less seducible. If you have already begun to speak differently and listen differently after reading this book, then I have succeeded. If you are wittier on Twitter and have headier headlines, then I have succeeded.”

That goal is at best neutral in the climate change debate, since “you” in the above paragraph can be readers on either side. It might actually be an own goal. The opposition pays more attention to these matters in the first place and therefore may be expected to profit more from the excellent teaching in this book.

In contrast, the last paragraph of the “Afterword” reads:

“I did not write this book expecting to end the debasement of the political language, but rather to give rhetorical ammunition to those fighting the good fight in the face of the fiercest foes.”

That would indicate that Romm is not trying to help everybody (including fossil fuel propaganda peddlers), but only climate activists.

Is such a thing possible? Can anyone write a book that improves the “language intelligence” of climate activists while leaving that of their opponents unchanged?

It could be done. All one would need to do is apply the principles developed in this book to climate activism. For starters, show what the most effective “extended metaphor” or “frame” for the issue is.

Update: I have posted this review also to Amazon and to Goodreads. At the latter site, it is the only review at this time. In both cases, I have opted to choose “5 stars”.


Published by kflenz

Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. Author of Lenz Blog (since 2003,

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