Ostler’s erudition may occasionally lead readers into impenetrable thickets of explication, but his enthusiasm for the...

The cultural, religious and scholastic history of the Latin language—2,500 years of a paradise won and lost.

Polyglot Ostler—he possesses a working knowledge of 26 languages and holds degrees from Oxford in Greek, Latin, philosophy and economics, as well as a doctorate in linguistics from MIT, where he studied with Noam Chomsky—again demonstrates his considerable professorial chops, which readers first encountered in Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World (2005). The depth of the scholarship here is astonishing. He fleshes out his thesis—the history of Latin is the history of Western Europe and, indeed, of the New World—with thick strands from the histories of linguistics, warfare, religion, politics, empire, oppression and more. He describes the birth of Latin in Latium, a region in west-central Italy, its translocation to Rome and its role in the growth of the Empire (Latin became the common language of politics, the military and commerce). He offers glimpses of the lives and creations of Virgil, Horace and Sappho, and credits Cicero for giving Latin “its own corpus of philosophical writings.” Moving to the Christian era, he chronicles the adoption of the language by the early church, then examines how the German invasions affected both the Empire and its language—Latin began its metamorphosis into the Romance languages. On he progresses to the importance of Latin in medieval universities, the difficulties of translating Greek and Arabic texts into Latin, the rise of the printing press and the subsequent spread of vernacular languages. And then the long decline. Other languages—English among them—began to gain prominence as they developed formal grammars and produced literary geniuses (think Chaucer), and Latin became a more elite language, known and used principally by highly educated men. Latin retained a weakening grip on the church, until Vatican II, as well as a handful of other institutions, but its study today is limited. Still, doughty Latin-literates can purchase and peruse Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis.

Ostler’s erudition may occasionally lead readers into impenetrable thickets of explication, but his enthusiasm for the subject is infectious.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-8027-1515-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2007



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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