How to Win an Argument: An Ancient Guide to the Art of Persuasion

About the Author

James M. May is professor of classics, the Kenneth O. Bjork Distinguished Professor, and former provost and dean at St. Olaf College. An award-winning teacher, he is a widely recognized expert on Cicero and classical rhetoric and has written and edited many books on these topics. He lives in Northfield, Minnesota.

How to Win an Argument: An Ancient Guide to the Art of Persuasion

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Marcus Tullius Cicero (selected, edited, and translated by James M. May)

All of us are faced countless times with the challenge of persuading others, whether we're trying to win a trivial argument with a friend or convince our coworkers about an important decision. Instead of relying on untrained instinct—and often floundering or failing as a result—we’d win more arguments if we learned the timeless art of verbal persuasion, rhetoric. How to Win an Argument gathers the rhetorical wisdom of Cicero, ancient Rome’s greatest orator, from across his works and combines it with passages from his legal and political speeches to show his powerful techniques in action. The result is an enlightening and entertaining practical introduction to the secrets of persuasive speaking and writing—including strategies that are just as effective in today’s offices, schools, courts, and political debates as they were in the Roman Forum.


How to Win an Argument addresses proof based on rational argumentation, character, and emotion; the parts of a speech; the plain, middle, and grand styles; how to persuade no matter what audience or circumstances you face; and more. Cicero’s words are presented in lively translations, with illuminating introductions; the book also features a brief biography of Cicero, a glossary, suggestions for further reading, and an appendix of the original Latin texts.


Astonishingly relevant, this unique anthology of Cicero’s rhetorical and oratorical wisdom will be enjoyed by anyone who ever needs to win arguments and influence people—in other words, all of us.

  • Hardcover
  • 4.5 x 7 inches
  • 288 pages
  • Published: 2016

Editorial Reviews

"Drawing on his extensive experience as a scholar and teacher of classical rhetoric, May (classics, St. Olaf College) brings together excerpts from Cicero's extensive contribution to rhetorical theory and practice to examine the theme ‘how to win an argument.' One cannot find a better guide than Cicero. . . . A delightful and accessible foray into an enduring, relevant art." —Choice

"This is a highly recommended book for anyone teaching Cicero, those who would enjoy the excellent anthology of extracts, and anyone after an absolute bargain."Adrian Spooner, Classics for All

"How to Win an Argument provides a very good, user-friendly overview of ancient rhetoric—clearly and thoughtfully arranged, well translated, and with excellent brief introductory essays. It also admirably links ancient and modern practice. James May's extensive expertise is reflected throughout."Ann Vasaly, Boston University

"Presented with magisterial expertise, this book introduces the core principles of public speaking in a nutshell. James May's writing is clear and charming, and his book should appeal to a wide audience, including students, teachers, and general readers."Robert N. Gaines, The University of Alabama

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