Summary and book reviews of The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg

The Adventure of English

The Biography of a Language

By Melvyn Bragg

The Adventure of English
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Sep 2004,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2006,
    336 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

A landmark history of the English language detailing how and where it began 1,500 years ago and how it evolved to become the tongue of some two billion people worldwide.

In this groundbreaking book, Melvyn Bragg shows us the remarkable story of the English language from its modest beginnings around 500 A.D. as a minor guttural Germanic dialect to its position today as a truly established global language. Along the way its colorful story takes in a host of characters, locations, and events, from the early Anglo-Saxon tribes; Alfred the Great's stubborn resistance to the Danes; the impact of the Norman invasion in 1066; the "arrival" of such masterpieces as Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales, not to mention a "coarse" playwright named William Shakespeare (who alone contributed 2,000 new words to the language!); the songs of the Creole slaves and the words of Davy Crockett; and Lewis and Clark's expedition west, which coined hundreds of new terms as they discovered hitherto unknown flora and fauna. Embracing elements of Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Arabic, Hindi, and Gullah, this 1,500-year story covers a huge range of countries and peoples. The Adventure of English is an enthralling story not only of power, religion, and trade but also of people and how they changed. And continue to change the extraordinary language that is English.

2
The Great Escape

One of the manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 793 reads: "In this year dire portents appeared over Northumbria and sorely frightened the people. There were exceptional flashes of lightning, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the air. A great famine immediately followed these signs, and a little after that in the same year, on the eighth of June, the ravages of heathen men miserably destroyed God's church on Lindisfarne."

The Vikings were unloosed and for almost three centuries raids and settlements by these Scandinavian warriors devastated huge tracts of the English islands and threatened to supplant the language which had begun to show such astonishing promise. The Norwegians raided the northern and western rim of Scotland and flooded into Cumbria in the northwest of England. It was the Danes, though, who came with greatest force, their armies looting and then occupying substantial territories in the Midlands and in the east of the country. ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
  • award image

Reviews

BookBrowse

It's quite a gripping story - just as one thinks English is going to be finally squashed by an invading language, up it bounces as right as rain, not just having survived, but having grown by absorbing the invader (like a linguistic version of the movie Aliens).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (801 words).

Media Reviews
Observer, London

A fascinating tableau of a Darwinian struggle to survive and evolve.

Booklist - Mary Ellen Quinn

Why do Americans say fall when the British say autumn? How was English altered by the Black Death? What is Singlish and how has it evolved? Novelist Bragg explores these and other questions in his look at the English language's long march from obscure Sanskrit origins to a global lingua franca.... he is the ideal tour guide here, both entertaining and informative.

Publishers Weekly

...this biography succeeds in its broad, sweeping narrative, carrying the reader from the origins of Anglo-Saxon through the Viking and Norman invasions to the consolidation of British English and outward to America, Australia, India, the West Indies and beyond.

Library Journal - Marianne Orme

Starred review. Well researched yet more accessible to a wide audience than scholarly treatments by linguists or historians (e.g., Robert McCrum's Story of English and Albert C. Baugh's History of the English Language), this volume takes a novel sociological approach, focusing less on the grammar's development than on how the language developed via people and events. The result is a work more readable to a broader audience than similar titles yet also satisfying to scholars. Highly recommended.

Daily Telegraph, London

A captivating history of how the English language we know today came into being.

Mail on Sunday, London

A fascinating story, enthusiastically told by Bragg in tones of real adventure.

Times, London

There is a real passion and lively erudition. Bragg at his best.

The Independent (UK)

On American English as it evolved Bragg is excellent. He has a novelist's eye for the illuminating vignette... It is always readable, often thought-provoking, and consistently entertaining . The color illustrations are a particularly striking feature of the book.

The Spectator

Bragg's superb new history of the English language is told as an adventure story, and rightly so. There is much splendid intellectual firepower in this book.

Reader Reviews
Adam Picot

"The Adventure of English" is an excellent documentation of the formation and subsequent journey of the English language up to the present day. It is told in a fluent and scholarly style but with a conversational tone running throughout. This is ...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Melvyn Bragg was born in 1939 in Wigton, Cumbria - where many of his 19 fictional books are set. He won a scholarship to Oxford to read history, and in 1961 he gained a coveted traineeship with the BBC.

He presented Start the Week between 1988 and 1998. In his 1998 series On Giant's Shoulders he interviewed scientists about their eminent predecessors, and from 1999 to 2001 he presented The Routes of English, a series celebrating 1,000 years of the spoken language (on which The Adventure of English is based).

He currently presents In Our Time, a BBC Radio 4 series where he and his expert guests discuss the history of ideas, and explore subjects in culture and science.   The show is off-air until late ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Adventure of English, try these:

  • Eats, Shoots and Leaves jacket

    Eats, Shoots and Leaves

    by Lynne Truss

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    'Who would have thought a book about punctuation could cause such a sensation? Truss serves up a delightful, unabashedly strict and sometimes snobby little book, with cheery Britishisms dotting pages that express a more international righteous indignation.'

  • God and Gold jacket

    God and Gold

    by Walter R. Mead

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    An illuminating account of the birth and rise of the global political and economic system that, sustained first by Britain and now by America, created the modern world.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Hundred-Year House
    The Hundred-Year House
    by Rebecca Makkai
    Rebecca Makkai's sophomore novel The Hundred-Year House could just have easily been titled ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Valley of Amazement
    by Amy Tan
    "Mirror, Mirror on the wall
    I am my mother after all!"


    In my pre-retirement days as a professor ...
  • Book Jacket: A Man Called Ove
    A Man Called Ove
    by Fredrik Backman
    Reading A Man Called Ove was like having Christmas arrive early. Set in Sweden, this debut novel is ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Arsonist
by Sue Miller

Published Jun. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  131Tomlinson Hill:
    Chris Tomlinson

All Discussions

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.