Perhaps too much Macdonald and not enough logo-geekery, but a well-researched, even loving, look at our language and its...

READ REVIEW

THE STORY OF AIN'T

AMERICA, ITS LANGUAGE, AND THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL DICTIONARY EVER PUBLISHED

Former Weekly Standard editor and current Humanities magazine editor Skinner debuts with the story of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, whose 1961 publication prompted assorted pundits to declare that the end of civilization was nigh.

Imagine a time when a dictionary could animate the media as much as a political sex scandal. It wasn’t that long ago. Skinner, who serves on the usage panel for the American Heritage Dictionary, knows dictionaries and how they are made and devotes a large portion of his attention to the nouns-and-verbs aspects of lexicography. (How are words discovered and selected? How are definitions written? Where do the examples come from?) The author also profiles the people who made the decisions about the book, including Dr. Philip Gove, editor-in-chief for the project, and his predecessors and successors. The author also sketches the stories of the dictionary’s harshest critics, principally Dwight Macdonald, whose biography Skinner distributes throughout. He examines the powerful cultural forces involved, including the rise of structural linguistics and cultural relativism, the effects of TV and movies on vocabulary, and the country’s changing demographics. We learn why the F-bomb and others are not in the book, and why Gove changed the style of definitions, why he included so many varying pronunciations, and why he viewed the volume as descriptive rather than prescriptive. This latter function is what ignited critics, many of whom believed the lexicographers had caved and had no interest in maintaining standards. (The author points out that ain’t was in many dictionaries, including Webster’s Second.) Skinner carefully identifies the critics’ errors and the lexicographers’ missteps, and he explores the economics and politics of the dictionary business.

Perhaps too much Macdonald and not enough logo-geekery, but a well-researched, even loving, look at our language and its landlords.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-202746-7

Page Count: 350

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

  • National Book Award Winner

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more