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Customer Review

on 15 July 2009
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. I did not read it dedicatedly. I have read a fair amount of popular biography and history, but I found that Hitchings did not make enough of a tale of Johnson's life, did not weave a narrative of a life lived oddly, opinionatedly, and moralistically. But, his focus was the dictionary itself and not just its author, so he's excused. The story of the dictionary was a worthy challenge and Hitchings does it justice.

The structure is good, the historical content excellent, and the tactic of titling the chapters with specific words in the dictionary apposite. Hitchings provides a substantial amount of historical content without getting stuck in History's dross. For someone interested in the evolution of the English language Dr Johnson's Dictionary provides remarkable insight into the project, contrasted well with the strange and belaboured efforts by the Italians and French, while also showing the uniquely Johnsonian flavours of this landmark vocabulary.

The books weaknesses are dramatically fewer than its strengths, and noting this The Modern Language Association in the US gave Hitchings their prize for best work by an independent scholar in 2005 for the US version of the book. I didn't find the book prizeworthy, but rather worth a morsel of my leisure time here and there, a morsel I could enjoy the immediate taste of, then leave and return for more a bit later.
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