NINETEENTH-CENTURY AMERICA WITNESSED the golden age of the orator—peopled by rhetorical giants such as Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Henry Clay, Frederick Douglass, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, and Phillip Brooks, among many others. By the power of their words alone, these masters of the language helped us understand who we are and for generations steered the political and cultural evolution of the great American story.

The twentieth century saw the rapid rise of mass communication and media. Newspaper empires sprang up in the United States and Britain. Science fiction morphed into reality as radio, and then television changed our lives in ways we could never have imagined. A tiny community of orange orchards in ...

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