Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr. Johnson's Dictionary

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005 - Biography & Autobiography - 292 pages
By the early eighteenth century, France and Italy had impressive lexicons, but there was no authoritative dictionary of English. Sensing the deficit, and impelled by a mixture of national pride and commercial expedience, the prodigious polymath Samuel Johnson embraced the task, turning over the garret of his London home to the creation of his own giant dictionary.
Johnson imagined that he could complete the job in three years. But the complexity of English meant that his estimate was wildly inadequate. Only after he had expended nearly a decade of his prime on the task did the dictionary finally appear - magisterial yet quirky, dogmatic but generous of spirit, and steeped in the richness of English literature. It would come to be seen as the most important British cultural monument of the eighteenth century, and its influence fanned out across Europe and throughout Britain's colonies - including, crucially, America.
Brilliantly entertaining and enlightening, " Defining the World" is the story of Johnson's heroic endeavor, 250 years after the first publication of the "Dictionary." In alphabetically sequenced chapters, Henry Hitchings describes Johnson's adventure - his ambition and vision, his moments of despair, the mistakes he made along the way, and his ultimate triumph.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - ritaer - LibraryThing

Hitchings combines bits of Johnson's biography with comments on the dictionary itself, including Johnson's sources for exemplars and for definitions, some of Johnson's idiosyncratic style and the reception and influence of the work. Entertaining for word nerds. Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - kristykay22 - LibraryThing

As someone who is currently working her way through the complete works of Samuel Johnson and who read and loved The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford ... Read full review

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