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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.
First published in London in 1852, Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases became 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 Madman wannabe, 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.
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, Des Plaines P.L., IL Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
"Brisk and vivid, with Kendall coloring between the lines left by history." -Los Angeles Times "Kendall's style...gets the job done with sympathy and speed." -New York Times "Well written and persuasive." -Washington Post