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Dr Johnson's Dictionary: The Book that Defined the World

Dr Johnson's Dictionary: The Book that Defined the World [Kindle Edition]

Henry Hitchings
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Product Description


Hitchings offers us a highly entertaining guided tour...anyone interested in dictionaries, Dr Johnson or the English language will surely spend many happy hours with this book (The Independent)

Ingenious and fascinating (The Sunday Times)

Excellent. (Daily Express)

Immensely enjoyable, easily erudite (Scotland On Sunday)

I can warmly recommend Henry Hitching's book...affectionate in its portrayal of Johnson, the book itself is immensely likeable, written with serious intent and gentle good humour. (Spectator)

Lively and entertaining (Observer)

A pleasant stroll, with a genial guide, through Johnson's life (The Independent on Sunday)

Clever, wittily-written and amusingly-arranged (The Guardian)

A rich, lively and attractive book. (The Times Literary Supplement)

Hitchings writes with Johnsonian clarity and verve ... This is a charming book (Evening Standard)

'A clever, sympathetic and witty sketch of both man and book.' (Waterstones Books Quarterly)

'A goldmine of pleasures...Hitchings has an infectious relish for words' - Phil Baker (Sunday Times)

'Full of elegance and nail-on-the-head wit' (Sunday Telegraph)

'Hitchings has produced an absorbing account of Johnson's Dictionary that is as likeable as it is learned' (Independent)

'Full of serendipitous felicities' (Times Higher Education Supplement)

'Hitchings excellent book is both a great potted guide to the dictionary and its creation, and a marvellous biography of Johnson...A must-have for devotees of the English Language' (Observer)

'Excellent... Hitching's book is full of serendipitous felicities' (David Nokes, Times Higher Educational Supplement)

'In [Johnson's] description of "dull" he writes: "Not exhilarating; not delightful; as, to make dictionaries is dull work." Nobody could describe Hitching's book as dull' (Colin Waters, Sunday Herald)

'This story is a pleasurable stroll through Johnson's life, and combines elements of biography with social history and an examination of Johnson's concerns, illustrated by examples from the great work itself.' (Irish Times)

'Memorable passages on a range of fascinating subjects.' (The Good Book Guide)

'An engaging profile of one of London's great characters' (Time Out, Tom Howard)

'Henry Hitchings (a fine 18th-century name that) is a remarkable young scholar of the age of Johnson, and his DR JOHNSON'S DICTIONARY, arranged alphabetically like the eponymous original whose 250th anniversary it celebrates, offers an entertaining window on this most fascinating character and his times' (BBC History Magazine)

'Entertaining study...The great strength of Hitching's book is the compliment he pays to Johnson by so lavishly quoting from the Dictionary' (Sunday Telegraph)

'Hitchings has written a lively and appetite-whetting biography of the great book of the most fascinating and influential literary endeavours in the history of English literature' (Herald)

'Henry Hitchings' book on Samuel Johnson's mighty Dictionary is so good, so apposite, so chewy and edible, that I felt as if I were rereading it on my first pass' (Will Self, New Statesman)

'Hugely entertaining, it's a real treat for word lovers' (Sainsburys Magazine)

'The author is to be congratulated on narrating the drudgery of the dictionary's compilation so engagingly' (Evening Standard)

'The author has followed ably in the footsteps of his subject, producing a witty and learned book on a man whose work shaped, and continues to shape, the way we speak and think' (The Good Book Guide)

'An extraordinary read' (Venue)

'This is a delightful book about an extraordinary man. I suspect Dr Johnson himself would have approved... and there's no greater praise than that' (John Humphrys)

'A lively and appetite-whetting biography of the great book' (Herald)

'Henry Hitchings's book is lively, erudite and enriched with colourful anecdotes - a masterful account of one of the greatest literary triumphs of the eighteenth century' (Giles Milton)

'Engaging' (Literary Review)

'This is a delightful book about an extraordinary man. I suspect Dr Johnson himself would have approved . . . and there's no greater praise than that' (John Humphreys)

Book Description

Journey into the history of English and discover how words have entered our language to make it what it is today.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 466 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray (16 Feb 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006W2UZ8W
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #393,424 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 12 April 2005
This is a very well written and highly readable account of the first really important English dictionary. It contains a wealth of information about Dr Johnson, about the eighteenth century, about London life and the English language. It's a sympathetic and sometimes very funny study. Who's it for? Anyone interested in the historical period, in language and ideas of correctness, in how the language got to where it is today, in books about books or in cultural history. It's a very interestingly organised book as well, with sections headed by entries from Johnson's dictionary, running through the alphabet from A to Z. Recommended.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A feast of a book 11 July 2006
By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER
This book gets off to rather a slow start. The first 45 pages - about a sixth of the book - tell us of Johnson's life before he started work on the Dictionary. True, it links some of the events of Johnson's life to definitions he will give in his Dictionary; but such links are relatively few: the biographical element and the not unfamiliar social history of 18th century London predominate. That is pleasant enough, but one is impatient for the story of the Dictionary to begin. But when it does start, the book becomes really interesting and indeed fascinating.

Initially Johnson hoped to `stabilise' the English language, to exclude `low terms' from it, and, through many of the elevating passages he chose to illustrate the use of a word, to promote education, religion or morality. Later, however, he felt the responsibility to record how English was actually being used in his time - that being the view which predominates among modern lexicographers. If he has to include words of which he really disapproves, he notes that they are `cant'. But he happily included some robust slang expressions of his time and certain vigorous words of abuse. He was suitably idiosyncratic in deciding which words are cant (bamboozle, nervous, the drink stout, flirtation), which are `low' (ignoramus, simpleton) and which are not. He also had a great dislike for words recently imported from France, though he includes them: bourgeois, unique, champagne, cutlet, trait, ruse, finesse. He would of course have known what a huge range of French words came into the English language with the Norman Conquest; but for him any word, of whatever origin, that had been used by the Elizabethans, had a respectable pedigree.

Johnson's methodology is interesting.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly entertaining 12 April 2005
By A Customer
It's 250 years since Dr Samuel Johnson compiled the first really authoritative dictionary of the English language, and, as Henry Hitchings shows in this lively but also scholarly book, this is something to celebrate. Johnson is known to many people as the character portrayed by Robbie Coltrane in a famous episode of Blackadder, but he was one of the great men of his time, and his dictionary was his most important achievement. It affords a window on the society and cultural life of its period, is a seminal work in terms of the history of English and of lexicography, but is also funny and unexpectedly poetic, as Hitchings illustrates. The book explains why Britain needed a good dictionary, why Johnson was the man to do it, how he went about his work and what its influence has been. At the same time it gives a very clear picture of what the dictionary is like, and it emerges as a remarkable work and an extraordinary accomplishment for a single man to have pulled off. Hitchings writes engagingly: there are abundant anecdotes, and at the same time there is enough fresh, surprising and well researched material to make this a very enjoyable study.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable book about a great achievement 6 April 2006
By A Customer
Dr Johnson is a quotable figure, but he's not so well known for what he actually wrote, and in this readable book Hitchings tries to redress the balance. It's an interestingly organised study of Johnson's dictionary, Johnson the man and the eighteenth century, but it will perhaps be best received by people who are intrigued by language and have enjoyed books like David Crystal's Stories of English or the more recent Balderdash and Piffle. There are some good anecdotes here, as well as lots of fluent analysis. It's probably less arcane than it sounds, and Hitchings writes with style and a human touch. Recommended.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just what the doctor ordered! 4 April 2006
Dr Johnson... star of one of the best episodes of 'Blackadder'... the one who got upset when his precious dictionary ended up in the fire.
Of course, the real Johnson had far more substance. By turns melancholic, sociable, pious, amorous, humorous and - most famously - witty, Johnson is often turned to today more for the story of his life and his oh-so-quotable quotes, and the whole Johnson industry, perpetuated by James Boswell.
This is a stunning book - intelligently structured around the dictionary , it draws its understanding of Johnson's character, opinions, failings and triumphs from the dictionary itself, looking closely at Johnson's definitions of words, and exploring sometimes what they reveal about eighteenth century society. All of this sounds perhaps a tad tedious - but Hitchings writes skilfully, and with a witty sense of humour where required.
Each chapter begins with, and takes its title from, a word from Johnson's dictionary and Johnson's definition, then relates the word to Johnson's work on the dictionary or biographical information - a neat formula which works, and is just a cut above the ordinary... especially as these words are then in alphabetical order - a nicely polished structure.
Johnson was a huge consumer of tea - so, in Johnsonian style, put on the kettle, retreat to your garret, then sit back with a brew and savour a fascinating read. Then head to the nearest tavern for some serious intellectual discussion on one of the eighteenth century's greats.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Joy of language!
Many years ago I was given an original, antique copy of the second part of Johnson's dictionary. I came across it recently while tidying our books and tucked into it was a review... Read more
Published on 13 Dec 2011 by Frenzied Gerbil
4.0 out of 5 stars Light and Informative
Though interesting, I did not finish this book quickly. Every so often I read a chapter or two, in between other books, or when I felt like a change from the book I was reading. Read more
Published on 15 July 2009 by Mr. S. D. Halliday
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, however deceitful.
I did find the book entertaining but the author made some outrageous comments - declared as fact, which he later contradicted. Read more
Published on 2 Oct 2008 by Tony Foley
5.0 out of 5 stars Top Stuff!
It was not quite as good as I thought it would be.. slightly dull and disappointing. I don't about Dr. Hitchings but I feel he needs to sort out his writing styles.
Published on 4 Feb 2008 by A
3.0 out of 5 stars A thesis masquerading as a novel
I've read a couple of books about dictionaries (including the highly forgettable "Surgeon of Crowthorne") but I'd never found an accessible book about Johnson's dictionary. Read more
Published on 9 May 2006 by viciousidol
4.0 out of 5 stars What a read.
This book is fantastic! Don't we all love it when a previously unheard of author, surfaces to write something extraordinary! Read more
Published on 26 Jan 2006
3.0 out of 5 stars A book you have to come back to
This book is full of interesting anecdotes about Johnson, his life, the work and the people around him. Read more
Published on 24 Jan 2006 by
5.0 out of 5 stars Dr.Johnsons Dictionary
Very interesting book.I dont read a lot of non-fiCtion (as i find it a bit too heavy) but this was quite readable and enjoyable. Perfect for journeys on the bus or train. Read more
Published on 27 Jun 2005 by LLoyd Hutton
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow..
The debut for the author, who I think handles it really rather well. This book is the definitvie guide to the english language. Read more
Published on 28 May 2005
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