True, this omnium-gatherum of information celebrating the richness of the world's most widely spoken tongue has some internal lapses and too broad a compass: Claiborne (The First Americans, God or Beast?) speculates whether the Kirganians were the ""original"" Indo-Europeans; launches into appreciations of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, etc.; denounces the ""see-and-say"" method of teaching children to read. But he is also an agreeable cicerone on this long linguistic ramble. He begins with Proto-Indo-European; traces the origins of the Germanic languages, the split into North, West, and East Germanic, the Anglo-Saxon immigration to England, the Norman conquest, borrowings from French, Latin, Greek, and other languages; and moves on into modern English with all its national, regional, ethnic, and class dialects. He discusses Black English, Pidgin English, Gullah, Cockney, ""Strine,"" ""Bontling,"" you name it. Perhaps the best thing in the book is the lavish supply of etymologies: newcomers to the subject should enjoy Claiborne's deft demonstration of the roots binding English, especially American English, to so many far-flung soils and varied cultures (as in words like hominy, poppycock, whisky, coach, gumbo). But while Claiborne sticks to good scholarly sources and can be trusted on grammar and related matters, he's an amateurish literary critic. Knowledgeable readers will wince, for example, to hear him lump together Old Testament Hebrew with the impoverished koine Greek of the New Testament and then guess that the eloquence of King James Bible ""must surely equal the originals; it is impossible to imagine anyone saying better, in any tongue, what the KJ says so well."" A generally sensible, appealing popular history, nonetheless.