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

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

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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

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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