What we say, what we don’t,
and why it matters.

An Effort To Understand

Hearing One Another (and Ourselves) in a
Nation Cracked in Half

~ David Murray ~

“David Murray is one of my favorite writers, and this book arrives not a moment too soon. Writing simply, directly, and with great kindness, Murray reminds us that the ways in which we communicate show us who we are. A worthy and reparative tool for these times.”

—Phoebe Judge
Host and Co-Creator of the podcasts Criminal, and This Is Love

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This new collection of essays from rhetoric authority and celebrated writing blogger David Murray applies his signature blend of humor and heart to a free-wheeling conversation about how we communicate in America.

With essays like “We Deserve Leaders Who Act Like They Like Us,” and “Speaking Truth to Power: Talking to Myself,” Murray’s words give readers a window into everyday American discourse—from the backroads of rural Illinois to the carpeted halls of the C-suite.

Guided by an ear for the lessons of history, An Effort to Understand shows that the personal and political gulfs between us are small compared to our common desire to connect.

American discord is nothing new, but we have a chance at trust, peace, and solidarity if we make an effort to speak more honestly and listen to understand.

About The Author

David Murray heads the global Professional Speechwriters Association and comments daily on communication issues on his popular blog “Writing Boots.” He is an award-winning journalist and is editor and publisher of Vital Speeches of the Day, one of the world’s longest continuously published magazines. He is the author of Raised By Mad Men, a memoir about his advertising parents, and co-author of the New York Times bestseller Tell My Sons: A Father’s Last Letters.

The son of two writers, Murray grew up in Hudson, Ohio, and studied English at Kent State University before moving to Chicago to make his own writing life. He lives in Chicago with his wife, Cristie Bosch, and daughter, Scout Murray.

David Murray

Advance praise for David Murray and An Effort to Understand

“Whenever David published one of my speeches in Vital Speeches of the Day, that always felt like a validation that I had gotten it right. In this collection of his own writing, David gets it exactly right—if we as a nation are to heal, we need to make an effort to understand all the things we have in common and relate to how and why we differ. This collection of essays is for the people who won’t give up the hope that we can.”

—James R. Clapper
former Director of National Intelligence

“An Effort to Understand is compelling, instructive, inspirational, and timely. David Murray’s reflections on communication—by leaders, among citizens, and between friends and family members—come at a time when it is clear that forthright, civil, and thoughtful communication is desperately needed. David helped a gifted, talented battlefield colleague of mine, who received a fatal medical diagnosis, write the New York Times’ best-seller Tell My Sons before my comrade died, and he has helped countless others over the years, as well. Now David writes over his name on one of the most pressing issues of the day—the need for all of us to engage each other respectfully, thoughtfully, and openly. His words could not be more important.”

—General David Petraeus
former Commander of the Surge in Iraq, US Central Command, and Coalition Forces in

Afghanistan, and former Director of the CIA.

“Whether you are a staunch Democrat who starts the day with Morning Joe or a firm Republican who begins the morning with the folks on the white couch on Fox and Friends, you know that part of being a patriot is listening to the differing views of fellow citizens. In this most American book, writer David Murray teaches you how to make your own truly honest Effort to Understand.”

—Admiral James G. Stavridis
(Ret.), Former European Supreme Allied Commander, NATO

“David Murray says great communication requires great listening. He may not be the first to make this observation but he may be the only one to explain how to do it: focus, intent and good will. Sounds straightforward, but few explain it so clearly. And fewer of us actually do it. We live in a time of polarization. Research makes clear we don’t even talk to people with differing political views. That’s a problem for each of us and for our country. I hope everyone read’s David’s compelling book and applies the lessons in real life. We’ll be better off for it.”

—Bob Feldman
Founder, The Dialogue Project

“An insightful book packed with wonderful writing, practical advice, and hope for a better, kinder future.”

Jonathan Eig
Author of Ali: A Life

“The ultimate communicator’s analysis of how to bridge the gaps in our understanding of each other, no matter how great the divide. We just need the right phrases at the right moment. And the ability to listen—really listen.  Reassuring, insightful, practical and wise, David Murray serves up an insider’s guide to our better selves and the words that can lead the way there.” 

Viv Groskop
Author of How to Own the Room: Women and the Art of Brilliant Speaking

“In his straight-forward, tell-it-like-it-is style, author and Ohio native, David Murray, offers his personal and professional insight into how communication is a tool for all of us, not so much as politicians, business leaders, parents, or friends—but just as humans—to better understand each other and ourselves. Through anecdotes, stories, and personal experience, Murray teaches us that how we talk is as important as what we say.  Sharp, witty, and entertaining, Effort to Understand is a fun—but equally instructive—read!”

Mike DeWine
Governor, Ohio

“Do you need a crash course on the most important of the liberal arts? David Murray’s book on communication will have you at hello—this is high-level entertainment that will improve your moral character. It is a wonderful defense of truth telling in our sordid post-truth time.”

Tom Geoghegan
Labor lawyer and author of Which Side Are You On: Trying to Be for Labor When It’s Flat on Its Back

“In an America divided by race and religion, class and culture, identity and ideology, David Murray urges us all to make ‘an effort to understand’ each other. With decades of experience in organizational communications, Murray examines public speeches, from political candidates to corporate CEOs, for clues to how we all can better express ourselves and empathize with friends, family members, co-workers and fellow citizens. And he enriches his analysis with engaging stories from work-life, parenthood and Chicago life.”

David Kusnet
Chief speechwriter for former President Bill Clinton and author, Speaking American 

“In these hyper-partisan and polarized times, Americans interested in building bridges to each other rather than forever manning the ramparts, can find no better instruction than the intelligent, absorbing new book by veteran communications expert David Murray, a smart and persuasive guide for how to communicate effectively to political opposites, An Effort to Understand.”

Mark Salter
Author of The Luckiest Man: Life with John McCain