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David Crystal has written an entertaining travelogue of selected part of (mostly) England and Wales. The reader accompanies Crystal as he meanders around various small towns (Haye on Wye, Stratford on Avon etc), finding many interesting places along the way and recounting many tales and anecdotes about place names and other linguistic curiosities. Crystal makes an amusing travel companion, perhaps with similarities to Michael Palin or Richard Bryson, and one gets the impression of a man with a fund of stories who would be a useful talking guide-book on any possible journey around Britain.

Although I enjoyed reading this book, it is difficult to see what happened to the Sebald inspiration claimed by the author. Sebald writes meditative, reflective books which lead the reader into contemplating the big issues of life and death - the actual locations and histories he recounts being almost incidental to the inner state of mind aroused along the way. This book on the other hand is an energetic tour through linguistic highways and byways, with fact after fact piled on in an almost random fashion, making it difficult to see the whole picture. By Hook or By Crook is definitely an entertaining read, but as with so many books about the origins of the English (or any other) language, unless one has a formidable memory for random facts, little of it will remain when the final page has been read. While the derivation of "Lichfield" for example is undoubtedly of passing interest, a week after reading the book I can recall little of it, nor can I quite see why I needed to know in the first place.

I read this book on holiday and it was perfect for picking up and putting down again a few minutes later. It does not demand too much in the way of concentration and would make an excellent gift for anyone with an interest in words and their meanings.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 August 2007
I've read a number of David Crystal's more scholarly books so this one was a surprise. It's a sort of stream of consciousness book by a person on a trip round eastern England and Wales who loves language and its interaction with the history of a country. It's full of interesting facts and observations and is a very enjoyable read. No theme is explored in any depth as the writer's divergent mind flits from one topic to another as his memories and knowledge are triggered by the places and people he visits. It's a book that can be read in snippets as the chapters are largely self-contained.
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on 4 May 2013
Which in part, to be sad, I am. Some of the reading was as dull as village ditch water-not a tadpole in sight. Big sighs, put the bloody thing down and grumped a bit. But went back to read more. Cos he's yon clever bugger! I am not sure I would have called it a journey like, more an amble and if you treat it as such, rewarding it is. Plenty of ingestion required like the queer bithplaces of common words and such. A small criticism-the journey takes place in a small section of England. Mr Crystal, be a man and trek the length and breadth of the land and plumb why English is such a hybrid of contradictions and more cuckoo and crow than nightingale or hard working wren. A'm still getting over his son's Shakespeare on bloody toast. Wreaks haddock on the marmalade and mushy peas. Ah well, better go off feed pidgins and chook stottie at ta spuggies. Alreet clever cloggs I am in Australia-hurl vegemite museli at yon cockies.
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on 23 October 2010
This is a book which I really enjoyed, yet it's difficult to convey in a review how that is. It comes across as a set of thoughts that Crystal has as he sees things which trigger linguistic memories and interest. Explaining it - it sounds like a random set of thoughts, and in some ways it is, yet I love it and the style really works.

Be warned: I suspect some readers outside of the UK, and without much knowledge of or a willingness to learn about the UK, could give it fewer stars.

This is the first of Crystal's books I've read - and I intend to purchase more.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 23 October 2012
I agree with much said in the other highly positive readers' comments, although what I would add is that this is one of those all too rare books that you can give to people who are seemingly impossible to please.
Out of desperation I tried it on a relative who always finds something to grumble about when given a gift.
On this occasion he enjoyed the book immensely, telling me often afterward what a terrific read it was (although he did complain that there are not more books like it).
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on 13 May 2012
Another gem by David Crystal - this time he looks at the different dialect forms that can be found within a very short geographical area. As ever, very readable and filled with humour.
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on 25 October 2010
An interesting book, full of more of Crystal's insights and expertise.
But I found it a touch too self-congratulary...but maybe that's just me.
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on 22 May 2016
Excellent mix of comedy, fact and knowledge but then again I am a fan of David Crystal.
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on 10 February 2016
Great work; an easy all the Prof's books.
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on 2 August 2014
So far so good ... Sometimes zzzz
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