The best books on how we use metaphor and how metaphor uses us

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated by (and in love with) language for as long as I can remember; how and why it works, and how slight alterations in phrasing and framing can produce vastly different results in practice. I love looking out for metaphors and phrases that function as tools, directing how we understand and engage with the world. While my research applies these insights to both law and economics, the key takeaways are widely applicable and relevant to all areas of life. I hope you enjoy these books as much as I have.


I wrote...

An Economic Sociology of Law Reimagined: Beyond Embeddedness

By Clare Williams,

Book cover of An Economic Sociology of Law Reimagined: Beyond Embeddedness

What is my book about?

How can we respond better to financial crashes, social crises, and environmental catastrophes? What if we could reframe the way we approach law and economics, thinking about them as social phenomena? Would a more diverse set of mental models help us to prioritize different sets of voices, values, and interests? 

The way we talk matters, and to illustrate, this book takes a deep dive into the function and impact of just one metaphor: embeddedness. It shows the extent to which our legal and economic metaphors are beset by generations of conceptual baggage, and how this tacitly leads us to reproduce certain outcomes that may not be in our best interests. It also offers one solution but suggests that there are many more.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate

Clare Williams Why did I love this book?

Have you noticed shifts in the vocabularies and grammars that we use over the last few decades? Why are we now talking about “tax relief” rather than “reduced investment in public goods and services”, for example? Who decided that this should be the standard phrase, and what do these shifts in our language mean for the way we understand and respond to political arguments?

George Lakoff is a master storyteller, but this book is grounded in decades of scholarship and research into how language frames our experiences and shapes our responses to the world. This book will change the way you consume current affairs and politics, and is an excellent introduction to how our language has been captured by certain political interests. It also sets out a manifesto for those interested in fighting back.

By George Lakoff,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Don't Think of an Elephant! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Donit Think of an Elephant! is the definitive handbook for understanding what happened in the 2004 US election and communicating effectively about key issues facing America today. Author George Lakoff has become a key advisor to the Democratic party, helping them develop their message and frame the political debate.
In this book Lakoff explains how conservatives think, and how to counter their arguments. His years of research and work with environmental and political leaders have been distilled into this essential guide, which shows progressives how to think in terms of values instead of programmes, and why people vote for their…


Book cover of Don't Believe a Word: The Surprising Truth About Language

Clare Williams Why did I love this book?

Shariatmadari writes beautifully, and this book will make you think differently about how we use language and how that language uses and shapes us, both as individual actors and as a society. Our language – those everyday vocabularies and grammars that we deploy without a second thought – is neither original nor value-free; instead, “to speak is ‘to swim in an inherited stream of images and words’”, crafted by generations before us. For small talk, this may not matter so much. But for the bigger, weightier things in life, for the things that really matter, the way we talk can have real consequences on what we are able to understand, and how we are able to respond.

By David Shariatmadari,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Don't Believe a Word as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Think you know language? Think again.

There are languages that change when your mother-in-law is present. The language you speak could make you more prone to accidents. Swear words are produced in a special part of your brain.

Over the past few decades, we have reached new frontiers of linguistic knowledge. Linguists can now explain how and why language changes, describe its structures, and map its activity in the brain. But despite these advances, much of what people believe about language is based on folklore, instinct, or hearsay. We imagine a word's origin is it's "true" meaning, that foreign languages…


Book cover of I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How it Shapes the Way We See the World

Clare Williams Why did I love this book?

Have you ever noticed that we use active metaphors for stock market gains (“the markets have climbed”) but passive metaphors for losses (“markets have tumbled”)? Have you wondered if this can legitimize the expectation that stock market gains are earned, while losses are then simply the result of forces beyond traders’ control?

Both law and economics claim to be value-neutral and prefer clear language, but both are “drenched” in metaphor and Geary unpicks some of the key metaphors here in forensic detail. Many of these metaphors are now so taken for granted that we no longer notice them. But they have a powerful role in shaping how we understand and respond to economic and legal concepts.

By James Geary,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Is an Other as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

According to "New York Times" bestselling author James Geary, Elvis Presley was more than just a rock star - he was also a master at metaphor. But as Geary posits in this lively and informative book on one of our most basic forms of language, metaphor does more than provide a good chorus for us to dance to. It also wholly forms how people look at and experience the world and drives invention and creativity. Although most people would assume that metaphor's only place of influence is in literature and song, as Geary argues, metaphors are found in all aspects…


Book cover of Metaphors We Live By

Clare Williams Why did I love this book?

This book is about how we understand our language and our experiences, and how we make meaning. It sets out some of the theories that structure analysis of metaphor and language, and while it’s based on the authors’ research, it is an accessible introduction. This book will change the way you think about the language you use every day, often without a second thought.

By George Lakoff, Mark Johnson,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Metaphors We Live By as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

People use metaphors every time they speak. Some of those metaphors are literary - devices for making thoughts more vivid or entertaining. But most are much more basic than that - they're "metaphors we live by", metaphors we use without even realizing we're using them. In this book, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson suggest that these basic metaphors not only affect the way we communicate ideas, but actually structure our perceptions and understandings from the beginning. Bringing together the perspectives of linguistics and philosophy, Lakoff and Johnson offer an intriguing and surprising guide to some of the most common metaphors…


Book cover of Metaphor and Thought

Clare Williams Why did I love this book?

This is a recommendation for those who want to go into a bit more depth with metaphor. The book is an edited collection of chapters written by experts who explore how metaphor constructs our reality, looking at metaphor as forms of language, and metaphor as forms of mental representation. Admittedly, there’s a little more jargon in this one, but the chapters are an excellent starting point for reflecting on the applications and implications of the way we talk and why it matters.

By Andrew Ortony (editor),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Metaphor and Thought as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Metaphor and Thought, first published in 1979, reflects the surge of interest in and research into the nature and function of metaphor in language and thought. In this revised and expanded second edition, the editor has invited the contributors to update their original essays to reflect any changes in their thinking. Reorganised to accommodate the shifts in central theoretical issues, the volume also includes six new chapters that present important and influential fresh ideas about metaphor that have appeared in such fields as the philosophy of language and the philosophy of science, linguistics, cognitive and clinical psychology, education and artificial…


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We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

Book cover of We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

Amy T. Waldman

New book alert!

What is my book about?

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus atUW-Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

Jest established lasting friendships with John Prine, Arlo Guthrie, and others, but ultimately, this book tells a universal story of love and hope…

We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

What is this book about?

The entertaining and inspiring story of a stubbornly independent promoter and club owner 

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus at UW–Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

This funny, nostalgia-inducing book details the lasting friendships Jest established…


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