How to Speak Intelligently About Everything That Matters
By Mark Morgan Ford
What if you could take a pill that gave you, almost instantly, a ready knowledge of the world’s most important and interesting ideas?
A pill you could take today and begin benefitting from tomorrow?
A pill that had no negative side effects but dozens of positive ones?
And, what if the total cost was less than $50? Would you buy it?
Well, I have such a pill for you. It has been in development for more than five years, and it’s finally ready for distribution.
It’s not nanotechnology. It’s not a tiny robot that dispenses data bites into your cranial bloodstream. It’s not a drug that expands your prefrontal cortex. It’s simpler and safer than those. And yet, it’s not science fiction.
It’s real. It works. And, you can order it today, get it tomorrow, and begin speaking intelligently almost immediately about everything that matters.
The sort of knowledge it will give you won’t be about income or business or investing.
I’m talking here about more important subjects—i.e., subjects that can enrich your intellectual and emotional life—such as art, literature, philosophy, poetry, film, dance, and theater.
Imagine yourself popping this pill and then being able to:
- Discuss how John Locke, the 17th century English philosopher, influenced the USA’s founding fathers.
- Identify the most important thinkers, writers, and artists of the Renaissance and explain why they were important.
- Explain why Andrea di Petro della Gondola (aka Andrea Palladio) may have been the most important architect in Western history.
- Understand what your favorite critic means when she calls a new book a bildungsroman.
- Walk into any church and know immediately if it is structured on the Latin or Greek cross and explain why that matters.
- Understand the difference between a novel, a novella, a vignette, a parable, and an exemplum.
- Name Tycho Brahe’s assistant, the man responsible for the laws of planetary motion.
- Tell your friends that Descartes’ famous declaration “Cogito ergo sum” was not in fact uttered first in Latin but in French (Je pense, donc, je suis) and explain why that matters.
- Know how and when to use the phrase persona non grata.
- Spend an afternoon at a great museum and recognize instantly the difference between impressionist, post-impressionist, and expressionist works of art.
- Explain the difference between a loggia and a portico, or a column versus a colonnade versus a pilaster.
The smart pill I’m talking about is—of course—a book. But, it’s not an ordinary book. It is a 208-page carefully researched and authoritatively edited compendium of the most important scientific, philosophical, economic, and cultural ideas of Western society.
It contains the content you’d want if you could program a smart pill to give you an instantly richer mental and emotional life.
At least, that’s how I see it.
I spent five years researching and writing it. And then I sent each of the chapters (on literature, art, science, etc.) to world-class scholars, who were kind enough to correct the errors, delete the unimportant entries, and add items I had missed.
How to Speak Intelligently About Everything That Matters identifies and explains important ideas you are likely to encounter in conversations with people who matter—powerful people, wealthy people, political people, social people, and—most of all—smart and interesting people.
Please note: This is not a reference book of literary and cultural terms. It is a compendium of the ideas behind the terms. My goal in writing this book was to understand and explain why so many of these words and phrases are still known and used in serious conversations after so many years.
Think of it, if you wish, as a “cheat sheet” to the most important ideas—ideas that can explain, elucidate, and enrich your life.
After reading the book, you will:
- Feel confident discussing Adam Smith and his contribution to our current understanding of economics.
- Be able to explain how Monty Python’s Flying Circus “dead parrot” speech is a wonderful modern example of the ancient figure of speech known as commoratio.
- Be able to distinguish the differences between high comedy, low comedy, and farce.
- Understand the meaning of memento mori and know why you should care about it.
- Explain why the young Thomas Kyd beheads rats in the movie Shakespeare in Love.
- Know why you shouldn’t be intimidated by textual criticism, exegesis, and hermeneutics.
- Be familiar with famous people you’d previously never heard of, such as Alisa Zinov′yevna Rosenbaum (Ayn Rand) and François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire).
- Know the difference between blank and free verse.
- Understand how Stephen King’s Carrie is a modern example of the epistolary novel.
I’ve been talking about one benefit of having this book in your library: that it will teach you the core ideas you must know to speak intelligently about “everything that matters,” even about subjects you currently know little about.
But, there is another benefit, which is actually the flip side of the same coin.
As humans, we like to believe we should be judged not by external qualities, such as physical characteristics or even qualities conveyed by privilege, such as education. We prefer to be judged for the quality of our characters and/or the strengths of our intellect.
In reality—and we all know this to be true—we are judged firstly, lastly, and constantly by what we say and how we say it.
And, that judgment—that external judgment—has a significant effect on almost every aspect of our lives, including our personal relationships, our social relationships, and our business relationships. Having the ability to speak intelligently about everything that matters will enhance these three key aspects of our lives.
I am not saying that your intrinsic worth—your value as a human being—is related to your grasp of these important ideas. For me, the most important qualities I look for in the people I care for are kindness, honesty, and the capacity to love.
But, when it comes to making decisions about hiring people, firing people, inviting people to become business partners, or even inviting people into certain quarters of my social life, I very much do judge them by their general intelligence and knowledge.
I am not alone in this respect. In fact, I think every emotionally intelligent person behaves the same way. Like it or not, we live in a world with all sorts of glass ceilings. And, one of those ceilings is about your ability to present yourself when the conversation turns to culture.
And, by the way, the higher you rise in business and social circles, the more commonly conversation turns to culture.
It’s not always enough to have a natural intelligence. Raw, unrefined brainpower can fuel a great business that can generate millions of dollars in personal income, but if you can’t speak with at least a modicum of knowledge about cultural aspects, you will be quietly rebuffed from lots of relationships that could be beneficial.
Likewise, having a college degree from a top-rated university, gaining entry into a prestigious social club, or wearing expensive clothes will buy you only a minute’s respect. The moment you begin speaking about art, architecture, or theater (even movies), people will judge you by the quality of your spoken ideas.
Again, I’m not saying it’s good or fair. I’m just describing a few things about judgment some people don’t want to admit. If you want to achieve all you are capable of achieving, you must acquire at least a rudimentary knowledge of the ideas that matter.
If you have ever felt uncomfortable talking about art, architecture, philosophy, or economics, you should read this book. If you have ever wanted to know more so you could enjoy more, you should read this book. If you have ever wanted to be a better conversationalist or take courses to supplement your education, you should read this book.
This book, as I said in the beginning, is meant to be a “cheat sheet” of great ideas. It certainly will not tell you all you need to know about these ideas, but it will be a start. Hopefully, some of these ideas will stimulate passions that have lain dormant. Perhaps there is a poet, an architect, or a scientist hidden inside you that needs to come out.
I hope you buy my book and find it useful. If you purchase it and don’t like it for any reason, let my publisher know, and we will issue a refund—no questions asked.
One final thought: If you agree with my thinking and are tempted to buy the book, why not buy two? Perhaps you have a child, sibling, or friend who might benefit from it.
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