I’ve recently been looking through a book called Thank you for Arguing by Jay Heinrichs—one of the surprisingly large number of books that have been arriving recently at the office on “the art of persuasion.” Heinrichs quite rightly observes that the art of rhetoric, now little taught formally, was once a pillar of the western education system, and that its techniques can be used to great effect throughout our daily lives to “win” both minor and major verbal battles with those around us. What he doesn’t seem in any hurry to establish in the hundred pages I’ve managed to trawl through thus far is whether such “winning” is actually such a great idea, or whether it might be better to shut up once in a while and work out whether you actually know what you’re talking about. How about constructive dialogue as a rhetorical technique, or the art of gracefully admitting you’re wrong or ignorant, rather than chapters with obnoxious titles like “control the argument,” “make them identify with your choice,” and “get instant cleverness”?
The Happiest Man in the World by Alec Wilkson. The story of real-life adventurer “Poppa Neutrino” (né David Perlman), as told by New Yorker writer Alec Wilkinson. Neutrino first found international fame for building a raft with refuse gathered from the streets of New York and sailing it across the Atlantic. But this was just one of many schemes the self-titled “aborigine” has dreamed up in the 73 years he has so far been alive. In between countless jobs and a few spells in prison, he also found time to found The First Church of the Fulfillment—”the only church in the history of the world that didn’t know the way”—to lead an outfit called the Salvation Navy; and to tour in a band called The Flying Neutrinos, (or “Latrinos”), which once made $10,000 playing in the New York subway.
Wilkinson has spent several years talking to Neutrino and various friends, lovers, wives (there have been three so far) and travel companions, and the result is sort of Huck Finn-meets-Homer, delivered in a style that lurches from pared-down journalism to more florid (imagined) tangents. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t, but the tale itself trumps any quibbles about form one might have: it is a fascinating and in many ways inspiring story.
I’ve been reading The Great Moon Hoax and…