From the best-selling author of The Professor and the Madman, The Map That Changed the World, and Krakatoa comes a truly wonderful celebration of the English language and of its unrivaled treasure house, the Oxford English Dictionary.
Writing with marvelous brio, Winchester first serves up a lightning history of the English language--"so vast, so sprawling, so wonderfully unwieldy"--and pays homage to the great dictionary makers, from "the irredeemably famous" Samuel Johnson to the "short, pale, smug and boastful" schoolmaster from New Hartford, Noah Webster. He then turns his unmatched talent for story-telling to the making of this most venerable of dictionaries. In this fast-paced narrative, the reader will discover lively portraits of such key figures as the brilliant but tubercular first editor Herbert Coleridge (grandson of the poet), the colorful, boisterous Frederick Furnivall (who left the project in a shambles), and James Augustus Henry Murray, who spent a half-century bringing the project to fruition. Winchester lovingly describes the nuts-and-bolts of dictionary making--how unexpectedly tricky the dictionary entry for marzipan was, or how fraternity turned out so much longer and monkey so much more ancient that anticipated--and how bondmaid was left out completely, its slips found lurking under a pile of books long after the B-volume had gone to press. We visit the ugly corrugated iron structure that Murray grandly dubbed the Scriptorium--the Scrippy or the Shed, as locals called it--and meet some of the legion of volunteers, from Fitzedward Hall, a bitter hermit obsessively devoted to the OED, to W. C. Minor, whose story is one of dangerous madness, ineluctable sadness, and ultimate redemption.
The Meaning of Everything is a scintillating account of the creation of the greatest monument ever erected to a living language. Simon Winchester's supple, vigorous prose illuminates this dauntingly ambitious project--a seventy-year odyssey to create the grandfather of all word-books, the world's unrivalled uber-dictionary.
Wall Street Journal
Full of engaging characters and incidents.
As inspiring as it is informative, Simon Winchester's history of what it took to assemble the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary is both a dazzling detective story and a poignant group portrait. A must-read for every language lover.
The amazing history of the Oxford English Dictionary is recounted by its author, and it's a rousing listen. Rife with wit, anecdotes galore, and entertaining wordplay, this audiobook is a must for lovers of the English language.
Christian Science Monitor
Winchester tells the story with great verve in an easy-going, anecdotal style that's delectably readable.
Chicago Sun Times
Winchester has no peer at illuminating massive and complex endeavors through the quirks and foibles of the brilliant and powerful personalities who carry them out.
New York Times Book Review - William F. Buckley
Teeming with knowledge and alive with insights. Winchester handles humor and awe with modesty and cunning. His devotion to the story is the more eloquent for the cool-handedness of its telling. His prose is supremely readable, admirable in its lucid handling of lexicographical mire.
Los Angeles Times - Robert McCrumm
The extraordinary story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary is a subject perfectly suited to Winchester's magpie mind.... Winchester's account is an affectionate and frankly partisan study of the making of a great dictionary. It is also an offbeat portrait of an extraordinary society.
The Boston Globe - Rochelle O'Gorman
Devastatingly brilliant.... Fascinating, witty, extremely well-written.... Winchester makes words exciting. He obviously loves them.
Winchester brings to life the trials and tribulations of creating the OED, particularly the never-dull personalities of those who were involved. Moreover, he delightfully, admiringly gives us an appreciation of the wonderfully adaptive, ever-expanding English language.... A story that could have been stultifyingly dull is fascinatingly told, with a verve and reverence for the English language that would have won huzzahs from Shakspere (Murray's favored spelling) himself.
Winchester's book will be required reading for word mavens and anyone interested in the history of our marvelous, ever-changing language.
A magnificent account, swift and compelling, of obsession, scholarship, and, ultimately, philanthropy of the first magnitude.
Starred Review. Inspired story of conflict, madness, genius, and inspiration so amusing that at times it reads like fiction--but it isn't.
Library Journal - Carolyn M Craft
Winchester wonderfully commemorates this monumental record of English and ultimately produces an inspired story of conflict, madness, genius, and inspiration so amusing that at times it reads like fiction-but it isn't. Highly recommended.
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