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October Reader’s Den - About the Author of "The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary"

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Thank you for stopping by the Reader’s Den for the second week of our discussion of The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary. Are you already engrossed in the trials and triumphs involved in the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)? Did you enjoy the whirlwind tour of the evolution of the English language and its lexicography in chapter one?

Perhaps you are not convinced that the story of a dictionary can be a compelling read. If you give it a try, you may find that in the hands of noted journalist and non-fiction author Simon Winchester, this detailed chronicle of the making of the OED reads almost like a novel, complete with fascinating characters, colorful settings, and unpredictable plot twists.

In the Meaning of Everything, Winchester humanizes the history of the OED while describing the work involved in its production. In the first chapter, he describes English as if the language were a living, breathing character itself, one which “grows with exponential joy,” and he pronounces that no prescriptive or rule-minded linguist has ever managed to "outwit the English language’s capacity for foxy and relentlessly slippery flexibility.” Recording as fully as possible our ever-expanding and adaptable language is the ambitious mission of the OED. Winchester's history is both an informative and entertaining look at how this was first achieved through nearly 70 years of devoted labor, culminating in the publication of the first edition of the dictionary in 1928.

In addition to making the history of the OED accessible, Winchester has also explored a range of subjects in his other books. From natural disasters and their aftermaths in Krakatoa: The Day the Earth Exploded, August 27, 1883 and A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906, to the lives and contributions of intriguing individuals in The Map That changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology and The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom. Winchester has also authored many travelogues, such as Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles. One of his latest works, Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and A Vast Ocean of A Million Stories, takes on a subject even more colossal than the OED — the ocean itself. The author's bestselling The Professor and the Madman was mentioned in a previous blog post.

You can find brief biographies, critical discussions of the author's work, news, and book reviews in the Literature Resource Center database, available through the NYPL website with your library card. Descriptions of all of Winchester's books, including his latest, The Alice Behind Wonderland, are published on the author's website together with links to his recent newspaper and magazine articles. The New York Times reviews of the author's books, including The Meaning of Everything, are posted on the Times Topics Page for Simon Winchester.

Thanks for reading! I hope you're considering checking out The Meaning of Everything or are already enjoying the book. And don't forget that you can use the OED Online with your library card! Discussion questions will be posted next week, but feel free to comment on the book, the author, or the OED itself at any time.

READER'S DEN October 2011: Jump to Week: One | Two | Three | Four

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Simon Winchester

Simon Winchester makes history come alive and so enjoyable!

Simon Winchester

Yes, he does! Which of his books have you read?

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