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Bernard Shaw once said that learning to speak in public is like learning to ride a bicycle. ""You keep falling off,"" he warned. If Cooke's latest collection of speeches is any indication of his biking ability, the popular broadcaster must be a whiz on a 10-speed. There's not a wobble, much less a tumble, in the entire 224 pages. Each of these sprightly talks was delivered before such prestigious groups as the annual Convocation of the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine, the English Speaking Union conference of British and American scholars, and the US House of Representatives. These ""learned bodies,"" as Cooke calls them, all represent a specialty--medicine, linguistics, politics--about which the layman has ""firm and quirky convictions."" It is as a link between the experts and the layman that Cooke addresses his audiences, bringing his own Anglo-American vision to bear on such topics as hypochondria, historic preservation, the military, Shakespeare, and the American Revolution. His erudition and wit are equally impressive. One of the most delightful of Cooke's verbal essays concerns ""The State of the Language."" Here, he has a great deal of fun (and makes a great deal of sense) recounting some of the ""genteelisms, circumlocutions and general pomp"" found in much writing and speaking today. TV weathermen with their ""precipitation activity"" and ""cloud cover"" pronouncements come in for some pointed comments. ""'Area,'"" Cooke admits, ""is my all-time nonfavorite: a cloudy word that has blanketed. . .the differences between neighborhood, district, part of town, region, state, field (of study) topic, theme. Airplanes used to stop at the gate. Now they 'make a complete stop at the gate area.'"" Cooke's convictions are ""firm"" and not altogether ""quirky""--just eminently sensible and presented with great polish and ease. For anyone interested in spending a few hours in the company of a stimulating observer of the human scene, one blessed with humor and insight, this should be ""just what the doctor ordered.

Pub Date: May 27th, 1986
Publisher: Knopf