When They Go Low, We Go High

Philip Collins

‘There is a danger that, in our time, we are losing faith with politics. The strain shows with the low repute of politicians. Their words float by, practised and polished, but profligate. The loyalty, respect, veneration and hope first expressed by Pericles and echoed in every collected speech since, has gone missing. It is the grand purpose of this book to help to call it back.’

In his work as a speechwriter to senior politicians and business leaders around the world Philip Collins has become well versed in understanding what it is that makes a speech great.

When They Go Low We Go High explores the ways in which the most notable speeches in history have worked, analysing the rhetorical tricks to uncover how the right speech at the right time can profoundly shape the world.

Travelling across continents and centuries, Collins reveals what Thomas Jefferson owes to Cicero and Pericles, who really gave the Gettysburg Address and what Elizabeth 1st shares with Winston Churchill.

And in telling the story of the great speeches he tells the story of democracy. For it is in the finest public speeches that progress unfolds: and we need those speeches now more than ever.

While we are bombarded by sound bites and social media, fake news and sloganeering, and when populists are winning support, democratic politicians need to find words that inspire and give us hope. Because disenchantment with politics fosters the dangerous illusion that there is an alternative.
Informed by Collins’s own experiences as a speech writer, When They Go Low We Go High is a passionate defence of the power of good public speaking to propagate and protect democracy and an urgent reminder of how words can change the world.

Reviews of When They Go Low, We Go High

    • ‘Anyone interested in the past, present and future of speeches and speechwriting will find it a fascinating read. For those of us who like nothing better than to marvel at effective use of an anaphoric tricolon, it’s an absolute must.’ Spectator
    • ‘Wonderfully sharp and well informed’ Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday
    • ‘It deserves to find a home in many Christmas stockings, in the library of anyone interested in oratory or political theory, and on the odd A-level reading list… he brings to his analyses a deep understanding of the pragmatics of speech-making’ Guardian
    • ‘Collins… understands intimately the mechanics of rhetoric. He believes that we, as human beings, possess the capacity to extract ourselves from the swamp in which we have sunk. Great speeches, the author suggests, are the solution to Trump’ The Times
    • ‘Perfect conference reading’ Andrew Marr
    • ‘No writer today understands the art of the speech so well as Philip Collins. His brilliant new book is an urgent tour through 2000 years of human history, revealing how the greatest addresses were shaped, while reminding us that politics and politicians still matter, and that when the greatest men and women speak to us, their words have the power to change the world’Dan Jones, bestselling author of The Plantagenets
    • ‘An utter gem of a book: Collins takes some of the finest speeches ever made and breathes new life into words you thought you knew well. Whether it’s the inaugural addresses of US presidents – or the revolutionary writing of Castro, Pankhurst and Mandela – Collins’ deft touch illuminates and contextualises these moments in history with wit and sensitivity – and the conviction that rhetoric may yet be our most powerful tool for changing the world’Emily Maitlis