Summary and book reviews of Alphabetical by Michael Rosen

Alphabetical

How Every Letter Tells a Story

by Michael Rosen

Alphabetical by Michael Rosen X
Alphabetical by Michael Rosen
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2015, 448 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2016, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite
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About this Book

Book Summary

Michael Rosen takes you on an unforgettable adventure through the history of the alphabet in twenty-six vivid chapters, fizzing with personal anecdotes and fascinating facts

How on Earth did we fix upon our twenty-six letters, what do they really mean, and how did we come to write them down in the first place?

Michael Rosen takes you on an unforgettable adventure through the history of the alphabet in twenty-six vivid chapters, fizzing with personal anecdotes and fascinating facts. Starting with the mysterious Phoenicians and how sounds first came to be written down, he races on to show how nonsense poems work, pins down the strange story of OK, traces our five lost letters and tackles the tyranny of spelling, among many many other things. His heroes of the alphabet range from Edward Lear to Phyllis Pearsall (the inventor of the A-Z), and from the two scribes of Beowulf to rappers. Each chapter takes on a different subject - whether it's codes, umlauts or the writing of dictionaries. Rosen's enthusiasm for letters positively leaps off the page, whether it's the story of his life told through the typewriters he's owned or a chapter on jokes written in a string of gags and word games.

This is the book for anyone who's ever wondered why Hawaiian only has a thirteen-letter alphabet or how exactly to write down the sound of a wild raspberry.

Q is for Querty

THOUGH I MEET up with the alphabet every day, it doesn't come in alphabetical order. It is presented to me as QWERTYUIOP. Prior to the invention of the qwerty keyboard on the early typewriters, the word 'alphabet' meant two things at the same time: the letters that we use and alphabetical order or 'the ABC'. Both physically and mentally, the alphabet was stored alphabetically. The peoples who used the alphabet didn't really have another way of conceptualizing it.

Now, though, I sit down and select letters from a store that is arranged completely differently. One peculiarity of this is that I can recite the alphabet in a few seconds, I can touch-type, but I can't recite qwerty. So I know these two methods of storing the letters in different ways. If you arranged a dictionary or register of people at a conference in qwerty order, most of us would be lost. Yet I can't help feeling that qwerty, in its own way, subverts the ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Some readers might find Rosen to be trying to do too much. At times the subjects he covers link only tenuously to the chapter letter. In I for Improvisation, for instance, he hops from animal noises to apostrophes to forms of address, seemingly at random. Inevitably some topics are touched on only lightly; for a more in-depth understanding of the history of the English language readers might want to turn to more specialist scholars of language such as David Crystal or Seth Lerer. That said, Alphabetical is a pleasing and interesting read: the kind of book where a lover of language will find information entertainingly presented and where even the most knowledgeable will likely learn something new...continued

Full Review (583 words).

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(Reviewed by Kate Braithwaite).

Media Reviews

The Guardian (UK)
Substantial and engaging.

Sunday Telegraph (UK)
Forget party crackers - when you settle down to the turkey and trimmings this year simply make sure you have this book to hand. There's even a chapter devoted to family friendly alphabet games...That letters can and should be fun, not just functional, is one of the main messages of this book.

Booklist
…engaging exploration…a quirky and informative collection of fun tidbits.…The book entertainingly proves that the ABCs have something to teach us all.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. His humor and obvious love for his subject are winning elements. The individualized graphics of each letter at the start of their respective chapters add an extra note of whimsy and pleasure.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. A delightfully informative book about letters, their meanings, and the words and meanings we derive from them.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Voynich Manuscript

In reviewing Alphabetical: How Every Letter Tells a Story, by Michael Rosen, I wrote that most readers would learn something, however small, from such a wide-ranging look at the English language. In my case, I was introduced to the Voynich Manuscript, written in central Europe in the fifteenth century, in a language that no expert has been able to translate. Rosen is firm in his assertion that the manuscript is a complex hoax but in truth theories about its provenance and meaning abound.

The story of the manuscript is as interesting as any lover of books and mysteries could wish. Around 1912, Wilfrid Voynich, a Polish refugee who became a naturalized British citizen and a London bookseller, acquired thirty ...

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