The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget's Thesaurus

The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget's Thesaurus

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by Joshua Kendall
     
 

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In the tradition of The Professor and the Madman, a "brisk and vivid"( Los Angeles Times) account of an obsessive scholar.

Polymath, eccentric, and synonym aficionado, Peter Mark Roget had a host of female admirers, was one of the first to test the effects of laughing gas, invented the slide rule, and narrowly escaped jail in Napoleon'sSee more details below

Overview

In the tradition of The Professor and the Madman, a "brisk and vivid"( Los Angeles Times) account of an obsessive scholar.

Polymath, eccentric, and synonym aficionado, Peter Mark Roget had a host of female admirers, was one of the first to test the effects of laughing gas, invented the slide rule, and narrowly escaped jail in Napoleon's France. But Roget is best known for making lists.

After the tragic turmoil of his early life (both his mother and sister were institutionalized), Roget longed for order in his chaotic world. At the age of eight, he began his quest to put everything in its rightful place, one word at a time. This is the fascinating story of a driven man and a brilliant scholar-and the legacy he has left for generations.

Editorial Reviews

Thomas Mallon
If the title of Joshua Kendall's fine new biography of Roget has a clinical Oliver Sacks feel, the material pretty much justifies it…Kendall's style is plain and sensible; he gets the job done with sympathy and speed, occasionally entertaining the reader with a novelistic flourish…
—The New York Times
Charles McGrath
Mr. Kendall's account of this unusual man is very readable and shows no signs of excessive reliance on the thesaurus. If his writing has a fault, it's a tendency toward mind reading and novelization…But this is an almost forgivable lapse, because Roget is a hard subject to warm to. He led an extremely interesting life without being very interesting himself.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

First published in London in 1852, Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrasesbecame popular in America with the 1920s crosswords craze and has sold almost 40 million copies worldwide. According to freelancer Kendall in this Professor and the Madmanwannabe, Peter Mark Roget (1779-1869) compiled the thesaurus as a means of staving off the madness that pervaded his family-the classification of words was a coping mechanism for his anxiety. Burdened by his father's early death and a mentally unstable mother and grandmother, young Roget was shy and melancholy. In the wake of the suicide of his uncle and surrogate father, Samuel Romilly, a distinguished MP, Roget's mother slid into paranoia, and a depressed Roget left a flourishing medical practice. But in his 40s, he found happiness: he married a wealthy, intellectually curious woman; developed a lively social circle; and became a first-rate scientist, lecturer and science writer for the masses. His thesaurus, which he tinkered with for nearly half a century, borrowed principles of classification from Roget's hero, the naturalist Carl Linnaeus. Although Roget is a tantalizing subject, Kendall never lights the necessary spark to make the legendary wordsmith come alive. B&w illus. (Mar. 13)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

How did a physician produce a masterpiece linguistic work? Journalist Kendall provides a very personal answer, namely, that Dr. Peter Roget originally pursued his thesaurus to benefit his own writing and stay mentally occupied despite numerous tragic deaths in his family. Thus, through making scholarly contributions, Roget also avoided the mental illness that plagued other relatives. Drawing upon letters, diaries, and other family documents, Kendall blends historical research with storytelling to support the theme of personal battles and educational experience. For example, Kendall begins by narrating how Roget discovered the suicide of his famous barrister uncle, Sir Samuel Romilly, citing this as one of many tragedies Roget endured. Kendall also discusses Roget's 15,000-word precursor (1805) to the 1852 thesaurus. The earlier part of Roget's 90 years is emphasized, including narrative and quotations to portray his family life, developing interest in language and science, and early efforts to categorize his learning. Another recent biography by Nick Rennison (Pocket Essentials, 2007) generally illumines Roget's scholarly background instead of the personal theme. Recommended for public and academic libraries.
—Marianne Orme

From the Publisher
"Brisk and vivid" —Los Angeles Times

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101207727
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/13/2008
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
1,031,165
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Joshua Kendall is a language enthusiast and an award-winning freelance journalist whose work has appeared in such publications as The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, and Psychology Today. He lives in Boston.

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