The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster's Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture

Joshua Kendall, Author
Joshua Kendall, Putnam, $26.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-399-15699-1
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In 1828 Noah Webster published the groundbreaking American Dictionary of the English Language and secured his niche as an avatar of a distinct American culture. Kendall (The Man Who Made Lists) honors Webster's crucial contributions to early American nationalism, which extended far beyond his primary obsession, the written word. Kendall paints a complex portrait of Webster (1758–1843), a man he claims "housed a host of contradictory identities: revolutionary, reactionary, fighter, peacemaker, intellectual, commonsense philosopher, ladies' man, prig, slick networker and loner." In spite of his flaws, Webster, Kendall argues not wholly successfully, belongs among the ranks of America's notable founders, associating with George Washington and Ben Franklin, among others, to craft an early American identity rooted in national pride and a distinctly American lexicon. Citing frequent references to Webster's nervous afflictions, Kendall ventures the somewhat shaky diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The book includes the politics of the "forgotten" founder, for example, noting that Webster "detested Andrew Jackson as the second coming of Jefferson," and a wide range of his activities, including helping found Amherst College. Kendall provides an intriguing look at one of America's earliest men of letters that is sure to appeal to lovers of both words and history. (Apr.)
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