The Man Who Made Lists: Not a Book Review

I recently finished The Man Who Made Lists by Joshua Kendall about the life of Peter Mark Roget and I don’t know what to say exactly.

I was hoping this book would be a kickstart to me to attack the pile of language books I have languidly lying around my bookshelves, but not so.

From the first pages, I was writing “awwwww” in the margins because the front and back sheets are his handwritten list of animal names in Latin and English.

The book goes through his biography, and I don’t like how it’s written, like the author had a Pastwatch-esque ability to know where Roget is looking and what he is thinking as he walks down the road or in the middle of a meeting. I know there are records and he could have explained it after the fact, but I just don’t buy it and it distracts me to throw in details about the buildings he passes and their little histories.
Whatever. So I identify with him, and he was destined to go on the Cool Guys List from the first cracking open of the book. So his life is tragic, and it makes me worry that I can try to organize the world in my little way, try to contribute to some field, realize the kind words someone once told me, that I am “a solution in search of a problem.” And I will contribute, probably, but it won’t stop my life from being terrible for no apparent reason, and it won’t stop me suffering from debilitating personal issues that don’t allow me to appreciate my many blessings or accomplishments. What I’m saying is, I’m really looking forward to the rest of my life. Thanks, book.
I mean, Peter Mark Roget was a serious genius, and put his hands into all sorts of medical and botanical classification projects, and now his name is (oh my, better write this one down) synonymous with Thesaurus-type reference books, but those are just word indices and lack the vision that his original system had about who would use his book and why and how.
RESOLUTION: To seek out an original-ish version of Roget’s Thesaurus, in a rare books room in Portland or elsewhere. To see the original layout, to see the systems and sub-systems. To touch a page, even if through gloved fingers. To be inspired or not by it. Begin.
November 18, 2009

in Books,book_review,Cool_Guys_List,RESOLUTION,Roget,Words & Origins

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