Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases became popular in America with the 1920s crosswords craze and has sold al"/>

The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget’s Thesaurus

Joshua Kendall, Author . Putnam $25.95 (297p) ISBN 978-0-399-15462-1

First published in London in 1852, Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases became popular in America with the 1920s crosswords craze and has sold almost 40 million copies worldwide. According to freelancer Kendall in this Professor and the Madman wannabe, Peter Mark Roget (1779–1869) compiled the thesaurus as a means of staving off the madness that pervaded his family—the classification of words was a coping mechanism for his anxiety. Burdened by his father’s early death and a mentally unstable mother and grandmother, young Roget was shy and melancholy. In the wake of the suicide of his uncle and surrogate father, Samuel Romilly, a distinguished MP, Roget’s mother slid into paranoia, and a depressed Roget left a flourishing medical practice. But in his 40s, he found happiness: he married a wealthy, intellectually curious woman; developed a lively social circle; and became a first-rate scientist, lecturer and science writer for the masses. His thesaurus, which he tinkered with for nearly half a century, borrowed principles of classification from Roget’s hero, the naturalist Carl Linnaeus. Although Roget is a tantalizing subject, Kendall never lights the necessary spark to make the legendary wordsmith come alive. B&w illus. (Mar. 13)

Reviewed on: 11/12/2007
Release date: 03/01/2008
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