Featured Book Reviews
"An extremely relevant and compelling read. Garcia documents dozens of examples of President Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric that have preceded -- and in many cases directly spawned – racist behavior and lone wolf violence. He further uses a variety of contemporary models and theories of dangerous speech to create a compelling mosaic that reflects
the broad, damaging impact that such incendiary language can cause. Finally, Garcia offers his own “Lone-Wolf-Whistle Playbook” and ideas to help identify political leaders who use dangerous speech and to hold them accountable for their behavior."
In WORDS ON FIRE, Helio Fred Garcia calls to task those in power who sling words maliciously or, even worse, heartlessly. As is no surprise, the US political climate and the present occupant of the White House are the focus of this book. Garcia begins this hard-to-put-down book by showing what happens when leaders "...begin using language in dangerous ways." He reaches back to good and not-so-good examples over the past few decades to demonstrate "...twelve forms of
communication that provide the social conditions that lead people to accept, condone, or commit violence." Fred then goes on to show how the current occupant of the White House uses and abuses these twelve forms of communications and, in no uncertain terms, how that abuse leads directly or indirectly to harm and violence. After he has already described horrific examples over the years, the parallels to the current environment are obvious and horrifying.
There are many books about abuse of power, and I expect there will be many more written about the current administration. This book is about abuse of words. To be clear, this book is not directly about atrocities, terrorism, bad politics or violence. Words On Fire is specifically about the power of words, and how that power leads to atrocities, terrorism, bad politics or violence. "Communication has the power to change people, to change societies, and to change the world. Communication has the power to comfort, to inspire, to liberate. Communication also has the power to terrify, to demoralize, and to oppress." as the opening paragraph of this book explains. In this respect, this book puts the current administration on trial for its malicious and mostly uncaring use and abuse of words.
Fred's book inspired me to always choose my words more carefully, regardless of audience. It also stirred up powerful emotions. However, it left me with a sense of cautious optimism that the current political climate is not a foreshadowing of things to come, but rather a passing phase. Read this book.
Helio Fred Garcia's writing, in describing those who incite violence toward others through use of incendiary rhetoric, is both very erudite and winsome. He keeps the attention of the reader all the way through his book, even for any reader who happens not to agree, but is at least willing to try to see
beyond his or her own "prison walls". I loved the concise listings of forms and framing (couching) of dangerous speech, such as detailed on pages 24-25, 64-66, 162, and other places; along with the tables, like “The Trump Playbook” on page 144-145, and many others. Besides Trump, he illustrates clearly and in detail just how others used and still employ the same old deceit to evoke hostile feelings and actions toward POC—others unlike themselves —in order to advance their own self-centered, self-referencing interests. Fred’s “lone-wolf whistles” shown a bright light for this reader, putting into better-organized thoughts than I had before, of just what to watch out for, from the unwholesome mindset and heart-set that conjure up this type of evil. His table on pages 237-240 is exceptional in pinning down the pertinent factors that compose this type of monster who too often provokes permanent injury, if not death, to the innocent who never deserve such treatment. Fred, along with personal Friend of mine, helps me see POC in the way that is positive, unifying, empathizing, loving, and label-less … who are, in fact, like me inside!
Thank you so much, dear Fred, for such an insightful rendering of the thoughts of many readers, and for those who need to further open their minds and hearts, to be changed, to progress in their outlook and areas of influence, even to place the welfare of others above their own!
There will be detractors. There will be people who know that this book has exposed the reality of our current situation and it is a threat to what made the country great: courage, not fear. You have crafted a message of truth. There is plenty of good to go around; and we need to empower each of us to believe again in what made us great. Well done, Fred. It would be refreshing to hear a unifying message of resolve from the Oval Office. We need it to restore our faith in the power of US!
This book is a must read. If you are concerned about the lack of civility and the increase in hateful speech, this book will help you understand the sources of incendiary speech. The book alerts us to threats to civil society and our democracy. It offers practical steps for how concerned citizens can effectively combat hateful speech and the divisive politics that arises from it. This book is highly recommended. It is well written. A good read.
If you’re among the many Americans who sense there’s something inherently wrong—possibly dangerous—about the way President Trump uses his “bully pulpit” to motivate supporters and attack enemies but aren’t quite sure what makes it so bad, this is the book for you.
The author provides examples from recent decades where reckless and sometimes intentional language inflamed already difficult circumstances, thus providing a foundation of understanding of how the present occupant is debasing our democracy, diminishing our civility and putting people at risk.Read this and you’ll be prepared to help others identify dangerous rhetoric and explain why and how politicians who use it must be held accountable.
This is one of the most important books you will read.
Fifty years after the world said “Never Again” to the horrors of the Holocaust, genocide took place on European soil. July 11, 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre when more than 8,000 men and boys were killed by the
Serbian Army. This year 8 more bodies were found and laid to rest. Many more still look for their families.
I write this because people need to know that genocide does not happen overnight. It begins when hatred and intolerance are left unchallenged or are manipulated for political gain.
With the fall of Yugoslavia, politicians in the region used divisive nationalism to gain power and influence. Propaganda and misinformation were utilized to spread first fear and then hatred, breaking apart decades of trust between vibrant and integrated communities and turning neighbour against neighbour.
The lesson from Srebrenica is that no society is invulnerable to prejudice and intolerance.
The lessons this book teaches us is that we must all remain vigilant against these forces, and take positive action to build stronger, more resilient communities. It teaches you to recognize the patterns of dehumanization and how to stop it.
Many of us will recall the soothing words we likely heard from our mothers as children: "Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never harm you." Turns out mom wasn't right about everything. Words can actually cause a great deal of harm, and sometimes that is the exact intent. In this must read book Garcia calls out the forms of rhetoric that incite
violence and hate, while examining the intentions of those who have resorted to these techniques of social influence.
Yes, we live a free society where men and women have fought and died to protect the civil liberties we hold dear, like freedom of speech. But, as Garcia reminds us, free speech can not be equated with consequence-free speech. We all agree that yelling "fire" in a crowded theater where no such fire exists is not protected speech - it carries consequences. So, too, are the words used by too many political leaders that are designed to seed hate and further divide us as a society.
I have known Helio Fred Garcia as a colleague, teacher and friend most of my adult life. Over the years he has helped shape who I am as a professional and as a human being. His words of wisdom in this book have never mattered more.
Book Review by Jim Lukaszewski
Words on Fire is startling, powerful and alarming. Read this review, get the book.
Fred takes on one of the most frightening topics we are beginning to face in our culture and in other cultures: the use of incendiary language as a radicalizing tool in America’s public discourse. I’ve known Fred for more than 35 years and we’ve worked together, collaborated, shared and admired
each other’s ideas.
Words on Fire is a very important book.
Words on Fire should be mandatory reading and a guidebook for every journalist, editor, business school, religious leader, and elected official. Important institutions in our society and culture have the affirmative responsibility to stand up and speak out against the users and use of dangerous language.
Words on Fire is the script for speaking out.
Like Rules for Radicals, published 40 years ago but still vital, Words on Fire should become a handbook for a personal and cultural movement to detect, expose, alert and trigger powerful counteraction to confront incendiary language and those who use it whenever and wherever provocativity and provocateurs emerge.
It is also core knowledge for activists, social change agents, and those planning to overthrow dictators, tyrants, and truly bad leaders.
Over the years I have learned and practiced hundreds of lessons and insights from Fred. I hope Words on Fire will draw attention to the help he can provide to our culture, wounded by the intentional incompetence, vilification and vengeance which occurs daily from America’s current leaders.
Decency, civility, and integrity have many enemies these days and like so many examples from the past, we seem to be sitting back and letting cultural disintegration happen.
Fred’s approach, in the simplest of terms, demonstrates the myth we all learned as children: that while sticks and stones may break our bones, words will never hurt us. We learned this at five, found out it was a lie at six when we were publicly humiliated by somebody we didn’t know in the school yard. We learned that broken bones will heal, but that insults, meanness and humiliation, disrespect and shaming, indecency and incivility leave bloodless, invisible and often permanent and irreversible undetectable scars… on our soul.
Fred’s first warning message is powerful yet simple: terminate the senseless supremacist tendencies that if permitted to continue will destroy our democracy. It is time to return our culture and our democracy to their fundamental promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I am really looking forward to that. Thank you, Fred.
Book Review by Steve Vogel
Words can inspire. But they can also be dangerous.
Words on Fire author Helio Fred Garcia spells out why and
how President Trump’s rhetoric is reckless and perilous.
I’ve personally experienced Garcia to be a great teacher, and that skill shows in this new, easy-to-read and interesting book.
After laying a firm foundation of how political language—sometimes intentional, sometimes just rash and heedless—inflamed some already grim circumstances in recent decades, Garcia turns to how Trump uses language to divide and frighten, to demonize his critics and build political power with no thought about long-term consequences.
Garcia concludes Trump doesn’t intend to incite violence but also doesn’t feel responsible or particularly concerned when (not if) it occurs. Standing in the spotlight, feeling important, being powerful is what counts to Trump. And if his language motivates what Michelle Obama calls “wingnuts and kooks” to violence, well, it isn’t Trump’s fault.
Except that it is.
Garcia writes about the positive power of language in a way that makes us thirst for the inspiration John F. Kennedy provided when he established America’s goal of landing a man on the moon (“that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills”), that Franklin Delano Roosevelt offered at the height of the Great Depression (“This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper”), that Winston Churchill delivered when Germany appeared ready to invade England (“…victory, however long and hard the road may be…”).
This book documents how Trump’s tactics debase our democracy, lower our civility and put people at risk. But it also gives engaged citizens the tools to identify menacing and alarming political language, even if it’s only mindless or negligent, and to hold our leaders accountable.
Fred Garcia has done it again. He has captured our random musings and frustrations about both the power and danger of words in an insightful, intelligent, well-researched, and brilliantly compiled book. This book, while timeless, is a must-read right now for its timeliness. We are living in a society that,
sadly, seems to be embracing incendiary language as normal and okay. Yet it is not. Words on Fire gives the reader context and a deeper understanding of what is happening in our country and, more importantly, a constructive way to talk about it!
Fred's a great writer and makes his case in a clear, logical, engaging way. Even the preface--the part of any book I am most likely to skip over--grabbed me hard. The book is sobering. But as a mentor of mine used to say, "Awareness precedes choice and choice precedes change." This book creates a lot of awareness for readers. I want to believe that this will translate into choices and change.
Flawlessly written and profound, “Words on Fire” is both essential reading for our time in America and a lasting reference work for anyone interested in making good use of the lessons history teaches. Helio Fred Garcia makes a compelling argument for the power of communication to inspire or divide us. Although it focuses on Donald Trump’s
rhetorical style that plays on unconscious emotional biases, stokes the fires of division, and even incites violence, the book also contains excellent illustrative examples from other periods in history around the globe. There is much to learn from this book. And it gives me hope for the power we have to create change when we hold our leaders accountable.