How to Win Every Argument by Madsen Pirie

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How to Win Every Argument by Madsen Pirie

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Category: Lifestyle
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: Whether you want to firm up your own arguments, or simply disprove others', this is a very easy to read book with all the tools you need.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: March 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic
ISBN: 978-1472529121

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When a book makes a promise on its cover, call me old fashioned but I’m kinda expecting it to deliver on this. So How to Win Every Argument has me thinking that I would read it and become an expert in proving I’m right all the time (even when I’m not). I was expecting the sort of hints and tips one could use to argue successfully that the Earth is flat, chocolate is a vegetable (cocoa is a plant) and Cheerleaders should rule the world. Simples.

Instead, this book surprised me with 100 or so different premises for arguments, some of which are good, others of which are somewhat lacking in logic. Learn to use the former and spot and disprove the latter, and you will be victorious.

Split into 5 broad categories of fallacies (formal and then informal fallacies of linguistics, omission, intrusion and relevance), there’s a lot to take in in this book, and it’s a fun read though for a book on logic I found the presentation a little illogical as the arguments were presented in alphabetical order and not grouped by those 5 categories. As many have Latin names which make them harder to remember (Crumenam, argumentum ad; Quaternio terminorum), there seemed little reason to write them down from a to z, and it did make it a little harder to look up a specific one later.

This book is about how to construct arguments more than how to win, and unfortunately, perhaps, the ‘winner’ in each case is almost always the person who is correct anyway. So, if you’re looking for a book that will help you win based on false facts then this isn’t the book for you. But if you merely need to convince people that you are right, there’s a fair bit to learn from here.

So let’s look at the arguments. If someone says this must be a good orchestra because each of its members is a talented musician and you want to disagree, you could point out that an orchestra is a team affair and just because the individuals are skilled, they may not work well together, or keep in time with each other, or take direction well as part of a group. It may be a good orchestra, but there’s no must about it. Or how about the old logic problems, such as the claim that because all cheerleaders are athletes, and some athletes eat chocolate, all or even some cheerleaders eat chocolate? Based on the facts presented here, this does not follow. Maybe only football players each chocolate, while cheerleaders prefer salad (or, more likely, cake). As all cheerleaders are only some athletes nothing can be truly deduced (though for the avoidance of doubt, we do eat chocolate, often with photographic evidence, as part of a highly important Cheerleaders Against Anorexia campaign).

Another example? As a healthcare professional by day (when I’m not busy jumping around in Lycra and eating chocolate) I am familiar with the concept that you can put a price on a life, however unsavoury that sounds. The section titled It’s Worth It If It Saves Lives was, therefore, of interest to me, because the title itself is already contentious. At what cost? I’m pleased to say that the author if not heartless is at least a pragmatist. Not everything is value for money. Not everything is ‘worth doing’.

Even though it was not what I was expecting, I found this book a highly thought provoking, enjoyable and entertaining read. I’m not sure it made me better at arguing (ask the Boy and he’d tell you I’m already pretty good at that) but it definitely refreshed my mind on how to pick up holes in other people’s assertions.

Thanks go to the publishers for supplying this book.

If you would like some more facts with which to win arguments, Question Everything: 132 science questions - and their unexpected answers by New Scientist is an easy read that will fill in some gaps you might not even know you have.

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Buy How to Win Every Argument by Madsen Pirie at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy How to Win Every Argument by Madsen Pirie at


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