Friday, July 20, 2018

Booknote: The Man Who Made Lists

Joshua C. Kendall, The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget's Thesaurus. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2008.   ISBN: 978-0-399-154621.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: biography, history, bibliophilia
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

This is a biography of Peter Roget, the creator of the book we know as Roget's Thesaurus. Roget basically spent his life in and out working on the book. Roget suffered much in life losing his father early on; he had an extremely controlling mother, and there were other issues. As a way to escape his reality, he created his own world in lists. Since childhood, he wanted to classify the world around him. He would continue working on those lists throughout his life, and those lists of words and concepts would be the basis of his thesaurus. Roget would grow up, go on to college, become a doctor of medicine, and eventually a lecturer.

Roget's life was interesting at times, but it was not really that remarkable. There are parts of the book that  can be very slow and monotone. However, the book also provides a great look at the times he lived  in. In addition, over time, Roget meets various interesting people as well. We also get a look at how science progressed over time. Charles Darwin was a contemporary of Peter Roget, and eventually Roget would live to see Darwin's works published and the new theories of evolution rise to prominence (he himself remained a creationist sadly).

Overall, the book has its strengths and weaknesses. It is strong in showing the history of its time. It's weak because often there is too much minutiae that is just not so interesting. Still it is an interesting book overall culminating with the publication of the Thesaurus, the book that would eventually make him famous. In the end, I liked the book.

3 out of 5 stars.

* * * * *

Additional  reading notes:

A bit on what Roget was doing:

"With his word lists, Peter simultaneously created both a replica of the real world as well as a private imaginary world-- what contemporary psychologists call a 'paracosm'" (40).

Thomas Gray's six Latin maxims. Roget relied on these in writing his travelogue in adolescence"

  1. "See whatever is to be seen.
  2. You should see whatever I have not seen.
  3. Write down and describe, as faithfully as possible, whatever you see.
  4. To write is not to admire, since you are not a painter, paint everything with words.
  5. Whenever you can, abandon the footpaths, the worn crossroads of travelers.
  6. Correct whatever can be corrected" (62-63). 

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