Ad Infinitum is a splendid life history, compilation and guide, every page intense, stimulating deep interest. It is a fascinating compendium of relevant facts about language, in no way limited to Latin or languages derived from Latin; a history of European (and in many ways world) civilisation, of exploration, of cultural and scientific development. It is full of coruscating gems of captivating facts and unusual linkages. By calling this work a biography (and writing it with that substantive in focus) Nicholas Ostler endows it with the extra appeal that a person has over and above an abstract concept, deriving from their lovable idiosyncrasies, their personality, their individual life and vitality.
Ostler covers a huge range of fields, including education, books, libraries and book-making, rhetoric and linguistic analysis, monastic organisation, the influence of the church on civil society. On our journey of discovery he introduces a host of figures whose intellectual achievements have changed our ways of thinking, and writing. He provides his readers with persuasive explanation of how the urgent need to make meaningful statements leads to economical expression, with concision being by no means an enemy of elegance; and he does it with mastery of his own language, expression and story, painting with enviable balance an absorbing and densely realistic picture of evolving societies.
This is a book to appreciate; to attend to, as you would to a highly erudite and likeable guide; to mull over and digest; to learn from; but, more than all those things, it is a stimulus to learn and understand more deeply. Ostler opens a window onto a world which still, after 2 millennia, merits further exploration.