Ethos Debate has been around for a little longer than a decade now, if my math is correct. Through teaching about a hundred camps, judging thousands of rounds, and coaching tens of thousands of hours (and a dozen national champs), we have a few books that just might help Ethos students in their journey towards mature and prudent communication tactics. Of course, these books will help you win debate rounds too.
- Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath: This classic was possibly the first book to make it to our list. It is a mainstay of all modern and professional presentation. This book is a must read if you want to understand why stories are persuasive, and why certain ideas are sometimes more attractive than others
- Start with Why by Simon Sinek: A deeper look at why persuasion and communication should be done opposite of how you think naturally. Business, debate, conflict resolution–all of it can benefit from reading this book. Don’t advertise your ideas with what, but rather why. Simon Sinek also has a litany of helpful resources online and is a very talented and masterful presenter.
- Verbal Judo by George Thompson: George Thompson spent numerous years in the LAPD, talking people down from committing crimes, and de-escalating intense situations. His knowledge of empathy based communication is immensely helpful, not only for debate but also for real-life and the professional world after debate is over.
- Upside Down Debate by Isaiah Mcpeak: This is an entirely debate centric book by the founder of Ethos that will help debaters improve their game. What elements of debate harness persuasion the best? Why does it work that way? How can you use your skills to win more rounds?
- Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver: Weaver is an Ethos-favorite philosopher because he so heavily incorporates Pathos in persuasion. This relatively short book offers a new look at the fight against relativistic meaning and encourages courageous words with courageous thought.
- Figures of Speech, 60 Ways to Turn a Phrase by Arthur Quinn: Ever wanted a book for all your alliteration needs? Ever wanted to say something as dramatic as President Kennedy did in his second inaugural address? Get this book.
- Rhetoric by Aristotle: While it isn’t a real page-turner, it proves that ideas that can stand the test of time are worth incorporating into your rhetorical routines. A foundational work overall, it gives students deep insight into one of the better subjects of the quadrivium.
- The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth: Another Ethos-coach favorite pick. This book gives you the rhetorical devices, phrases, and mindset that you have always been looking for. A more analytical version of “60 ways to turn a phrase.” How and why do we use things like alliteration and zeugma (yeah I just dropped a word you don’t know the definition of – look it up and comment what it means).
Getting better at debate doesn’t mean you have to only read books about debate. Books on philosophy, logic, rhetoric, and critical thinking are fundamental too. Good arguments can even be hidden in novels and epics. Most Western Literature scholars confess the Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky to be among the best works of Western Literature ever written. Those same scholars admit it to also be more persuasive in its ideation than it is well written.
By the same token, topic analysis books about areas that debate favors (public policy, international law, policy implementation etc.) are extremely helpful too. Why? Because in every round of debate, you touch on various parts of the same topics. Philosophy, logic, policy, law, morality, etc. Reading a book that expands your understanding on those topics means you can explain them better to the judge, and get an advantage over your opponent. A good book on geopolitical and geographical politics is Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall.
All in all, whether it is reading news, or reading opinion analysis, reading is good for debate. I know debaters who read too much and debaters who don’t read enough. The fine line is this – can you incorporate what you read to become better? If yes, then you’re doing just fine. Besides, sometimes personal reading and debate reading can intersect, and actually become fun.