Where would we be without flattery? Hobbes deemed it an honorable duty and Meredith called it the “finest of the arts.” Alexander the Great applied it as imperial policy; Caesar and Cleopatra were masters of it; and Napoleon devoured it like candy. But flattery also has influential enemies. Cicero called flattery “the handmaid of vice” and Tacitus compared it to poison.
In a work as erudite as it is entertaining, Willis Goth Regier looks into flattery as an element as flammable (and as taken for granted) as oxygen. Giving flattery light, attention, and care, Regier treats readers to hundreds of historical examples drawn from the highest social circles in politics, romance, and religion, from the courts of Byzantium and China to Paris, Rome, and Washington, DC.
Because flattery must please, it is playful and creative, and Regier’s book makes the most of it, moving with light steps, now and then pausing to take in the view. Ambitious flatterers even seek to flatter God, a practice Regier treats with trepidation. This is a book for those who would understand the history, tactics, and pleasures of flattery, not least the thrill of danger.
“O, flatter me, for love delights in praises.”—Shakespeare
“The whole World and the Bus’ness of it, is Manag’d by Flattery and Paradox; the one sets up False Gods, and the other maintains them.”—Sir Roger L’Estrange
“Just praise is only a debt, but flattery is a present.”—Samuel Johnson
“In this disorganized society, in which the passions of the people are the sole real force, authority belongs to the party that understands how to flatter.”—Hippolyte Taine
Willis Goth Regier is the director of the University of Illinois Press. He is the author of Book of the Sphinx and editor of Masterpieces of American Indian Literature, both available in Bison Books editions.
"A trove of rhetorical-philosophical gems."—Publishers Weekly
“[T]he book contains many gems: exquisite, entertaining, carefully chosen words by the obscure . . . and the mighty.”—Christine Schwartz Hartley, Bookforum