Review of 'Dr. Johnson's Dictionary: The Extraordinary Story of the Book that Defined the World'

Dr. Johnson's Dictionary: The Extraordinary Story of the Book that Defined the World by Hitchings Henry

dr_johnson.jpg This biography tells the story of Samuel Johnson and his great life's work writing what is commonly regarded as the first workable dictionary of the English language. Published in 1760, Dr. Johnson's dictionary is a time capsule of its time yet a model for subsequent dictionaries that followed with concise definitions as well as quotes providing context. Dr. Johnson himself was an obsessive, as you might expect, that set about his challenge largely on his own with only minor amounts of input from others. His life was not without scandal and his attitude positively aloof so serves as an interesting subject.

A tough read for me. Despite being relatively short with smaller chapters of between 3-4 pages (amusingly titled in alphabetical order, one for each letter of the alphabet…roughly) the content is quite dense and, I have to admit, not all that thrilling. It is packed with large numbers of quotations from the dictionary which is interesting but not, in my world, something that makes an interesting book to sit down to read. I was (am) woefully ignorant of the history of the dictionary and of the time period so I found these two things made the experience more interesting for me. But, it was tough going.

The history of Johnson's dictionary, and indeed the man himself, is remarkable and enlightening to say the least but I cannot recommend it for a “light read” - If you wish to read, take your time and read it carefully as you very well may be rewarded for your efforts. For me, I was not as patient as others may be…I was hard pressed to read at least one chapter a day.

Rating: “Average, but who wants to be average?”

Review Date: 2015-06-13

Genre: Autobiography

Publisher: John Murray

Publication Date: 2005

ISBN: 9780719566325