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
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2015, 448 pages

    Paperback:
    Feb 2016, 256 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite
Buy This Book

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 ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • 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 $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

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).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.

(Reviewed by Kate Braithwaite).

Media Reviews

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.

The Guardian (UK)
Substantial and engaging.

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

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.

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

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • 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 $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

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 ...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • 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 $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Read-alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Alphabetical, try these:

  • Greek to Me jacket

    Greek to Me

    by Mary Norris

    Published 2020

    About this book

    More by this author

    The Comma Queen returns with a buoyant book about language, love, and the wine-dark sea.

  • Babel jacket

    Babel

    by Gaston Dorren

    Published 2019

    About this book

    Witty, fascinating and utterly compelling, Babel will change the way you look at and listen to the world and how it speaks.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search read-alikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • 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 $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

and discover exceptional books
for just $3.75 per month.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Stories from the Tenants Downstairs
    Stories from the Tenants Downstairs
    by Sidik Fofana
    'Everybody got a story, everybody got a tale / Question is: Is it despair or prevail?' ...
  • Book Jacket: Fire Season
    Fire Season
    by Leyna Krow
    Fire Season is a thoroughly enjoyable novel that touches upon multiple genres and themes. It ...
  • Book Jacket: The Story of Russia
    The Story of Russia
    by Orlando Figes
    In The Story of Russia, British historian and writer Orlando Figes shares panoramic and ...
  • Book Jacket: Moth
    Moth
    by Melody Razak
    On August 15, 1947, India gained independence from the United Kingdom, and on that same day the ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Ways We Hide
by Kristina McMorris
From the bestselling author of Sold On A Monday, a sweeping tale of an illusionist recruited by British intelligence in World War II.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Natural History
    by Andrea Barrett

    A masterful new collection of interconnected stories, from the renowned National Book Award–winning author.

Book Club Giveaway!
Win A Minor Chorus

A Minor Chorus

A debut novel from a rising literary star that brings the modern queer and Indigenous experience into sharp relief.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

Y Can't G H A

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.