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THE MAN WHO MADE LISTS: LOVE, DEATH, MADNESS AND THE CREATION OF ROGET’S THESAURUS By: Joshua Kendall August 22, 2010

Posted by lycan librarian in book reviews, Books and reading.
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      This is an intriguing biography about Peter Mark Roget, the man who compiled ROGET’S THESAURUS OF ENGLISH WORDS AND PHRASES CLASSIFIED AND ARRANGED SO AS TO FACILITATE THE EXPRESSION OF IDEAS AND ASSIST IN LITERARY COMPOSITION. Yes, that is the proper and complete title. While many modern editions of thesauruses have words listed alphabetically, the Lycan Librarian has always preferred the edition she received for Christmas when she was in seventh grade. It is arranged by the concepts: Abstract Relations, Space, Matter, Intellect, Volition and Affections. While the green leather cover has been taped and retaped along the spine many times, it is a prized possession that is dotted with bookmarks and opens easily to the librarian’s most often studied words, and she can little imagine the lofty task of arranging and compiling such a vast collection. But after reading this biography, it is clear that this project guarded Roget against the mental illness that shook the other members of his family.

     Roget began making lists as a child, and one list of principal events in his life was that of dates of death, which he started in 1787 when he was eight, and ended in 1857 when he was seventy-eight. The boy had inherited his mother’s revulsion of dirt and disorder. He was very practical, and, lacked a vivid imagination and, oddly, an interest in reading or writing as he lived in his private imaginary world where words were his best friends. His life was colorful and full of famed visionaries of his times such as the physician Thomas Beddoes, poet Thomas Gray, and philosopher Dugald Stewart whose students included both Roget and Sir Walter Scott. The twists and turns of Roget’s story keeps the reader avidly following this tale until the last page is turned.
     Roget said words were “like spirits from the vasty deep,” which came not when called and resulted in our employing sets of words and phrases either too general or too limited, too strong or too feeble, which suit not the occasion, which hit not the mark we aim at. And at times, even with the aid of his fantastic compilation, that still holds true. But what is sadder, is the number of people who never consult the magnificent thesaurus. While facilitating a library writers’ workshop, I was astounded by the writers who said they had never heard of a thesaurus. Roget gifted us with an absolutely priceless treasure, so pick one up and use it, and spread the word. Simply thumbing through the thesaurus will compel you to read this fantastic biography about an eccentric genius who dropped a precious gem of a book in the laps of generations of students, readers, writers and thinkers. There are uncountable legions of people who are eternally grateful to Roget for his accomplishment, and I stand proudly among them.

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Comments»

1. Heidemarie Chernushin - August 23, 2010

It’s scary to think that there are individuals who are intersted in writing that haven’t heard of, let alone used, a thesaurus, even if it’s just the online version. One of the most helpful tools to find just the right word to express your thoughts, or the thoughts of a character in a story.

lycan librarian - August 23, 2010

I agree. The crazy part is, when I introduced this “unknown” book and showed them the library copy, some of the writers didn’t even get excited about it. I expected them to flip out on the spot. My thesaurus is my most valuable writing tool. I’m such a nerd, I was super excited when I got it for Christmas in 7th grade.


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