This biography covers the life and times of Noah Webster—whose name has become synonymous with “dictionary”—from his humble farmhouse birth in 1758 to his death, surrounded by loved ones, in 1843.
A short prologue informs readers that at age 49, Webster, who voiced the opinion that “America is an independent empire, and ought to assume a national character,” began his magnum opus: “an American dictionary, based on his strong opinions…the product of many years of thought.” The book then introduces Noah’s birth and proceeds chronologically. The text does an admirable job of giving personal details of Colonial and post-Colonial life, as well as incorporating the rapidly changing history that surrounded Noah when he left home at 16—with his father’s blessing and hard-earned tuition money—to attend college. The text is full of direct quotations, both from Webster and from people who knew him, and their reactions were, unsurprisingly, mixed. He was apparently bright, inquisitive, and relentlessly opinionated. Small history lessons that backdrop his experiences—as in passages about wars, federalism, women’s roles, and abolition—are neatly integrated into his attempts to earn a living, to establish copyright laws and standardize spelling in the new nation, to find love, and more. Recurring episodes of poverty interfere only temporarily with a man driven to write, to publish, and to influence others.
Thorough, well-documented, and smoothly written. (Nonfiction. 10-14)