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Spellbound: The Improbable Story of English Spelling: The True Story of Man's Greatest Invention Hardcover – 25 May 2006

4.6 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Robson Books Ltd (25 May 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 186105906X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861059062
  • Product Dimensions: 11.8 x 15.9 x 1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 740,082 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Hi everyone! Welcome to my author page on amazon!

My name is James Essinger and I write novels, non-fiction books, magazine articles and also I do some business writing. I also write novels and non-fiction books as a ghost-writer. In addition to this I have written a screenplay about Ada Lovelace called 'Ada's Thinking-Machine', and I am also involved with another writer and a composer in writing a musical about Ada.

I was born in the English Midlands city of Leicester in 1957 and went to Overdale Junior School, Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys and then Lincoln College, Oxford, where I studied English Language and Literature. I have an MA degree from Oxford University.

My surname is German. My late father Ted, who was born in 1922 and died in 2005, was born in Germany in a German Jewish family and came to the UK in July 1939, just six weeks before WW2 broke out. My grandfather Julius (my second Christian name is Julius) was killed in Auschwitz. My grandmother Rega and my uncle Uli also died during WW2. I am deeply sympathetic to the Jewish faith but my own religious position is essentially agnostic. I am a firm believer in the Law of Attraction.

I speak Finnish, French and German as well as English. From 1980 to 1983 I taught English in Finland in three nine-month contracts. I have been a freelance writer and public relations consultant since 1988.

I love writing, reading, chess, great music, cooking, socialising and also gardening though I don't have much time for that.

Writers I love include Shakespeare, Dickens, Conrad and George Orwell. My favourite Shakespeare play is 'As You Like It', my favourite Dickens works are 'A Christmas Carol' and 'Our Mutual Friend', and my favourite Conrad books are 'Heart of Darkness', 'Lord Jim' and 'Nostromo'.

Other books that have made a massive impact on me include DH Lawrence's 'Women in Love', William Styron's 'Sophie's Choice', Anthony Burgess's 'Earthly Powers', William Sutcliffe's 'Are You Experienced?' and Philip Kerr's 'A Philosophical Investigation'.

Movies I especially like include: 'Casablanca', 'Some Like It Hot', Mephisto', 'The Terminator', 'Les Visiteurs', 'Gladiator', 'Sideways' and the marvellous horror film 'Mama'. If I want a good laugh I like watching the movie 'Fat Slags' written by my friend William Osborne.

Poets whose work I love include John Keats, Lord Byron, Shelley, W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Philip Larkin and my friend Valerie Cassar, whose recent collection 'Silence of Your Breath' is superb.

I am on Facebook and Twitter.

I am also the principal of Canterbury Literary Agency, which I founded in 2011.

Product Description


Essinger displays not only verve and affection (there are nuggets of linguistic information on every page) but also great scholarship... -- Times Educational Supplement - July 7 2006

About the Author

An Oxford graduate, James Essinger has published more than thirty books, including a book on how to write marketing copy. Both his previous writings and his time spent teaching English abroad leave him exceptionally well qualified in the linguistic field. His most recent book was published by Oxford University Press last year.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Spellbound took me on a magical tour following the twists and turns of all human history, stopping off at the most unlikely places. The journey's purpose is to show the `improbable story' of why English enjoys the most illogical spelling system in the world. And I really do mean `show'. When I read this book it felt more like watching an action-packed technicolor movie with living, breathing people full of hopes and dreams - people who've contributed to how our language is written today... Not something I'd expected from a book about words.

The author obviously has a great passion for our language and an earnest desire to share his great knowledge of it. He succeeds in making what could be very complex concepts accessible, and more to the point, fun and interesting. For example, I never thought I'd ever learn the basics of how Egyptian hieroglyphics, Gothic runes and the Chinese writing system work, but now I do- and it's great fun for showing off at dinner parties!
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Format: Hardcover
Being a complete beginner in the subject of the history of the English language, I found this book quite hardgoing, but it was a fascinating read. I imagine that it would appeal both to novices and to specialists in the field of written languages. James Essinger keeps you interested about subjects that could quite easily be very tiring. His style of writing is both amusing and informative. Even if you're not particularly interested in the subject matter, if you read as much as the preface you'll be hooked. There's enough information in this

small but compressed book to turn any beginner into a reasonable authority on the matter.
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Format: Hardcover
In this splendid book, James Essinger tells the fascinating story of the evolution of English Language and spelling.

Over the course of around 250 pages the reader is treated to an educational journey encompassing a variety of topics including early writing forms such as ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, different forms of alphabets (with particular reference to our own), the historical roots of the English language, with emphasis on pivotal events such as the Normandy invasion of 1066, the development of the first dictionaries, and lots more. He even finishes up by discussing modern-day phenomena such as mobile phone text-messaging, which has arguably become a language of its own, barely recognisible from plain written English.

Essinger's writing style is lucid and highly readable. The book contains a wealth of information, without ever becoming dry or tedious. I have no hesitation in awarding it the full five stars.
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Format: Hardcover
A book on language is not something I'd normally take to the beach with me. Stumbling upon Spellbound at the airport bookshop I read it on holiday, and was glad of my impulse to buy it. The author has clearly done his homework and distilled what must have been some pretty painstaking and arduous research (we are after all talking the past four thousand years or so of human history) into a pacey, fact-filled, often funny and easily digestible read. This book traces the origins of much-used English words from beginnings as wide-ranging as hieroglyphs, ancient runes and even the Eskimo, Basque and Mongolian languages. All in all, quite unputdownable.
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