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

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

by Joshua Kendall

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In the tradition of The Professor and the Madman, a "brisk and vivid"( Los Angeles Times) account of an obsessive scholar.

Polymath, eccentric, and synonym aficionado, Peter Mark Roget had a host of female admirers, was one of the first to test the effects of laughing gas, invented the slide rule, and narrowly escaped jail in Napoleon's France. But Roget is best known for making lists.

After the tragic turmoil of his early life (both his mother and sister were institutionalized), Roget longed for order in his chaotic world. At the age of eight, he began his quest to put everything in its rightful place, one word at a time. This is the fascinating story of a driven man and a brilliant scholar-and the legacy he has left for generations.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101207727
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/13/2008
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 1,124,052
File size: 641 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Joshua Kendall is a language enthusiast and an award-winning freelance journalist whose work has appeared in such publications as The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, and Psychology Today. He lives in Boston.

Table of Contents

Preface     1
Prologue: Stained by the Blood of a National Hero     9
Formations (1779-1808)
The Boy Without a Home     21
The Brilliant Student     53
The Idle and Depressed Young Man     83
Napoleon's Captive     111
Manchester: Both the Thesaurus and a Medical Career Begun     145
Bloomsbury Doctor, Inventor, and Scientist (1809-1848)
The Best-Looking and Most Gentlemanly Bachelor in England     181
Mary     211
Mourning, Scholarly Triumph, and a Secret New Love     233
Wordsmith in Retirement (1849-1869)
Back to the Thesaurus     251
Vibrant Until the Last Breath     267
Epilogue: The Thesaurus Through the Years     281
Acknowledgments     285
Index     290

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"Brisk and vivid" —-Los Angeles Times

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Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget's Thesaurus 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
mbmackay on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Only rarely do you come across a book that makes you wonder what is going on in the publishing world. This is one of those books. It is a biography of Roget, the creator of the famous Thesaurus. The material is interesting - there is a good biography there to be written. Unfortunately, Mr Kendall hasn't written it. The first problem is his fractured sentence construction. In what is possibly some effort to provide variety, sentences rarely flow in any normal way. Nested clauses abound. The time sequence is never simple or clear. The subject rarely appears anywhere near the start of a sentence. Just one example of many: "Having been annexed by France in 1798, Geneva, then an independent republic and not part of Switzerland, was a city under siege." Now, I guess that he is trying to say that Geneva was an independent republic prior to annexation by France, but surely there are many ways of saying this more clearly. Where was the editor?Then there is the issue of style. Much of the book is written in the form of a conventional biography. But occasionally the content becomes novelistic, with an omniscient narrator knowing the thoughts of the characters and providing detailed dialogue. I have no problem with historic fiction, or even with fictionalised history, but the problem here is that these interludes pop up unannounced and then fizzle out as the author gradually reverts to conventional biography. Again - where was the editor?Lastly is the issue of content. Kendall provides a good account of Roget's life, and also some insight into his personality. In particular he stresses Roget's use of facts and lists as a device to block out unpleasant aspects of his life. Now this sounds to me like Asperger's Syndrome, but this issue is never discussed. The cover notes tell me that Kendall has won awards for his writing (!) from the National Mental Health Association and the American Psychoanalytic Association. As a writer with an interest in the mind, surely the possibility of Aspergers was apparent to Kendall? Even if he had excluded the idea, surely the material warranted a discussion??Read April 2011.
lemonee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a book about the life of the man who wrote Roget's Thesaurus. True, not much about the thesaurus but more about the process of writing, thinking, obsessing and trying to stay sane. The thesaurus isn't as much an achivement as a manifestation of his life experiences.
Osbaldistone on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A good utilitarian biography about a figure in history whose contributions are little thought about today. Roget, who created the Thesaurus at a time when there was nothing close to it and the need was great, also invented the modern slide rule led major scientific societies, and contributed to the natural sciences. A good handling of an unusual man, and well worth the time to learn about the man. My only real complaint is that Kendall seems to apply a 21st century sense of judgement on Roget's relationships (and difficulties therein). This sense may be somewhat due to the lack of cited evidence when such opinions are interjected. Still, a recommended read for a word maven, list keeper, organizer, or just to fill in a hole in one's knowledge of the movers and shakers of the early days of what became modern science. Os.
PallanDavid on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There are two things I hope to learn when reading a biography, first, I expect to find out about the life of the person who the book is about, and second, I hope to learn about the society in which the person is living (social morals, living conditions of the people, politics, etc.) The Man who Made Lists delivered very well on both of these points. The subject of this book, Peter Mark Roget, was very much shaped by not only his family dynamics, but also the social expectations of the time. And he believed in and followed these expectations to a "T". As such he was very much a stereotypical "stiff upper lip" 19th century English Gentleman. Roget is today a word synonymous with Thesaurus, he wrote the first one and it is the why and how which is so fascinating. Roget was a member of a lineage through which depression and obsessive/compulsive disorders moved through the generations. Those of his family who beat these mental problems, were workaholics. Roget discovered that making lists were his therapy. Beginning at the age of about seven, he began making lists of the natural world (plants and animals) as well as writing the same things in Latin. This developed ability allowed him to reach the top of his profession, medical research. His years of research, list making, and cataloging a variety of information were all part of the making of the Thesaurus. To be fair, he actually worked on the book throughout his life.Although much of this book is very readable, there are slow sections in which the ins and outs of his academic life and associations are detailed. I very much enjoyed reading the descriptions of social life of this period in time, as well as some interesting things concerning the Wars between England and Napoleonic France.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A silver key lays imbedded in a small mossy root. Its handle is bejeweled with rubies and diamonds and the key itself is a leaf-like shape, its edges serrated slightly like a rose leaf.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
DuctorCE More than 1 year ago
"Words are the physicians of a mind diseased." AESCHYLUS. Prometheus Bound Joshua Kendall's 'The Man Who Made Lists' is a refreshing break from the plethora of spiteful political exposés that have demanded our attention this election year. With a tutored eye, he introduces the reader to the life and times of Peter Mark Roget (1779-1869), physician, theologian, lexicographer and compiler of Roget's Thesaurus. Born in London while England fought America at the front door, and Spain at the back, Roget started what was to be for him a sad and humorless life. Nevertheless, Kendall's light touch sails us through this ocean of misery and madness in a way that might otherwise try the reader's endurance. Disturbed people surrounded young Peter; indeed, he exhibited obsessive- compulsive behavior himself long before such a condition was recognized. However, he handled it by exercising his fertile brain to the exclusion of normal life. Long before his thesaurus was published, Roget . . Qualified as a physician at Edinburgh University. . Developed a new laboratory test for arsenic poisoning. . Published a paper on the slide rule, inventing the log- log scale. . Discovered that the retina typically sees a series of still images as a continuous picture, with subsequent implications for film making in the future. . Achieved success as an academic physiologist. . Published a 250,000-word treatise on animal and vegetable physiology to international acclaim. His day job was as a dedicated physician at industrial Manchester where he endured great hardship while tending to the poor. Not too many doctors do that these days - not in SW Florida anyway. He was also involved in what could have been a life threatening adventure. One of Roget's many activities was to accompany a family of young children on a grand tour of Europe to give them what would have been an intensive education. When they were in Switzerland, Napoleon demanded the arrest of all adult Englishmen. Swift and persistent action on his part allowed him to return to England with his charges; safe and sound. There is even a suggestion that his escape plan was suspended long enough for Madam de Stael to seduce him. Madam de Stael was not the only 'name' to punctuate his life. Roget was no stranger to Jeremy Bentham and Humphrey Davy. He had more than a nodding acquaintance with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth. Erasmus Darwin, (Charles's grandfather), and Benjamin Franklin's son William were notable conversationalists. He was involved in a book club that Isaac D'Israeli, (Benjamin Disraeli's father), was invited to join. It was towards the end of his life that the Thesaurus was published. It had 28 printings before he died, and continued by his family. Roget died while on holiday in West Malvern, Worcestershire aged 90, and lies in the cemetery of St James's Church. Maybe the steep hills there had something to do with it. Roget's life was filled with sadness, but Kendall avoids melancholy and moves the biography on at fiction speed. The result is a well-written biography of a very interesting intellectual who prospered despite adversity. A pleasure to read - more than once.
SarahT More than 1 year ago
By placing the most tragic and revealing incident in Roget's life at the beginning of the book, the author creates a powerful hook which he is then, unfortunately, unable to top for the rest of the work. The book as a whole suffers for the author's tendency to jump ahead in time to interesting events, and then back up to explain how we got there. This device eliminates the question in the reader's mind of "how will this turn out?" or "what happens next?", making most of the reading like slogging through a marsh to a destination you already know. Perhaps it is difficult to sustain empathy for a subject such as Roget - who worked so hard to keep his own emotions under control that he actually scolded others for expressing theirs - but by the time the book was over, I felt that I had learned quite a lot about the man, but was also certain I would never have wanted to meet him.
omnivoreRS More than 1 year ago
As might be expected of the man who undertook such a compulsive task as the making of the standard thesaurus, Roget was a rather eccentric individual. The author chronicles his strange life and that of his family in a workmanlike way. The writing is clear if not inspired. He tends to be repetitive. But the story of Roget himself--he was accomplished in more than just making word lists--and of the history of word books is of sufficient interest to have held this reader's attention.
newtogame More than 1 year ago
Peter Roget was a brilliant 19th century figure who overcame emotional illnesses [inherited depression and anxiety] to complete a successful medical and research career, culminating in his masterpiece, "Roget's Thesaurus." Had no idea he invented the slide rule, among other accomplishments, all the while supporting his mother and sister who also suffered from depression. The book itself is a little dry, but as a college Linguistics major, I found the story to be compelling enough to keep me interested. Goes quickly enough, particularly if the subject intrigues the reader at all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
How do you write an interesting book about a socially isolated man with absolutely no feelings for others, no friends? Roget had a compulsion to categorize everything in the world, down to a final list of 1000. The Thesaurus is a monument of great achievement, invaluable to all writers. But the biography could have been a short essay. The writing has no humor,no wit and is written in newspaper style. The book is almost painfully dull. But, so was Dr. Roget. I fell for the deceptive blurbs in this week's New Yorker and bought it at once. Glenn Stoutt, MD